Online streaming giant Netflix has applied for a license to continue broadcasting in Turkey amid fears that newly-introduced laws may lead to future censorship.
Legislation announced in August means that content providers need to both acquire a new license and commit to comply with the guidelines of the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK).
Just exactly what these guidelines are have not been made public. But broadcasters who do not adhere to them will be given 30 days to change their content or have their activities suspended for three months and then cancelled.
According to the independent Turkish press agency Bianet, Netflix recently applied censorship for the first time in Turkey.
“In the global version trailer of “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie”, a follow-up to the renowned series “Breaking Bad”, a man in a car is seen with a cigarette in his hand. However, he does not have a cigarette in the version for Turkey,” Bianet reported in September.
Since the censorship of the movie trailer was widely discussed on social media, Netflix released a statement saying that it may edit movie trailers in many countries in case they include sensitive footage.
However, Netflix added that its users in Turkey will be able to watch the whole El Camino movie without any change or cut.
Netflix has 130 million subscribers worldwide, with 72.7 million in the US alone. Operating for three-and-a-half years in Turkey, Netflix currently has 1.5 million subscribers there. The absence of other online broadcasting platforms, such as HBO and Hulu, makes this market even more valuable.
Netflix currently reaches only about 10% of Turkey’s broadband households, so the Turkish market is a potentially important and lucrative source of new subscribers.
Netflix’s popularity has also alarmed some on the media scene in Turkey, where cinema-going is a highly popular past-time.
In a country of around 80 million people, approximately 40 million cinema tickets are sold every year.
The potential impact of Netflix on the domestic film market was highlighted recently when a film – Organize İşler 2: Sazan Sarmalı – by Turkish writer and director Yılmaz Erdoğan was made available on Netflix only ten days after it opened in cinemas.
The comedy, which follows the mishaps of a gang of burglars, was expected to be a huge office hit. However, the film’s producer complained that ticket sales dropped by five per cent soon after it became available on Netflix.
But Dr Aydın Çam from the Çukurova Üniversity in the southern city of Adana claims the producer’s complaints are unfounded because more than 3,5 million people have seen this film in cinemas already.
“I don’t think Netflix could be blamed for the drop in ticket sales. Organize İşler2: Sazan Sarmalı is one of the most popular films in Turkish cinemas this year and the director Yılmaz Erdoğan’s biggest box office hit so far”, Çam said.
Aydın Aksu, a lecturer in the department of cinema and TV at Çukurova University, said that the industry could absorb Netflix’s impact.
“Turkish society has a well-established cinema culture and Netflix cannot change that easily,” he continued. “However, a factor that could reduce the number of cinema goers is the high price of tickets – that’s the main problem.”
Çağla Okutan, a 24-year old film student from Istanbul, said that “the only advantage of Netflix is that you can watch it on the go, but it cannot replace the experience of watching a movie in a theatre”.
“Movies are to be watched in cinema, that’s a special ritual,” agreed film critic Gözde Hatunoğlu, who said that she did not subscribed to Netflix because she did not like their choice of material.
Another movie critic and journalist, Şenay Aydemir, said that he still visited the cinema as frequently as ever.
“The only change I’ve experienced since Netflix became available in Turkey is the amount of time I now spend in front of a screen when I’m at home,” he said.