One of my bigger arguments in Pop Goes Korea was that the Korean Wave was not really about Korea at all; it was actually about globalization. The amazing success Korea has had in media and entertainment over the past 10-15 years was not because Korea was unique and different as much as it was because Korea has ahead of the curve.
Korea was at the forefront of the Internet revolution, and many of the changes that online has wrought came to Korea first (or at least quicker and more dramatically). Music, for example — online/digital sales in Korea have surpassed physical sales (CDs, etc.) since at least 2004.
But, the thing is, those changes are increasingly affecting the rest of the world now. With music now, $5.6 billion is spent globally on digital music (that’s about 34% of all music revenue), with digital exceeding physical sales in Sweden, Norway, India, and the United States, and much of the rest of the world is catching up.
Which brings me to Turkey and Turkish television. I wrote about Turkish soaps in 2010, but they have just continued to grow in popularity since then, earning $90 million in exports last year, up from just $1 million in 2007. They have found big fans throughout Central Asia, the Balkans, the Arab World and even Latin America. And what’s driving that success? Good production values and stories, as well as the need for more content — cable/satellite TV means more channels, and those channels need something to fill the void. Turkish producers have done their best to fill it.
And it is not just Turkey. In Eastern Europe, the growth of pay-TV (now an $8.3 billion market) has also created more demand, leading producers to emulate Russian, Scandinavian, and other content.
With the success of Turkish soft power, predictably, has come a backlash, with many countries banning Turkish soaps. While cultural protectionism is a common issue all over the world (at least when a country is importing culture … exporters tend to be much more open-minded), I do think a lot of journalists oversell the issue. As one wrote:
Remember, the Turks did not feel they should be a satellite state of Brazil just because they so dearly loved Brazilian soap operas in the 1980s and 1990s. Nor did the Arabs begin to love the Americans/America because they had a habit of watching more Hollywood films (than Turkish soaps).
On the other hand (if I may undercut my own argument), when you look at the IFPI’s international music numbers, local sales are still overwhelmingly important in most markets. But I don’t think that is terribly surprising. Exports are more of an issue in capital-intensive forms of media, like TV or movies. When you go to the big international content markets (film, TV, music, or whatever), you are increasingly seeing an international presence selling content, not just buying. It’s still the early phases of the new media world we are growing into, but I’m still encouraged by what I am seeing.