ANTALYA, Turkey — Despite a drop in ticket sales this year, Turkey seems poised to maintain the overall B.O. growth it’s had during the past decade, as the nation that recently celebrated 100 years of cinema tries to look past the instability of 2016 and focus on promising future prospects.
Terrorism, economic uncertainty, and the lingering political fallout of a failed coup attempt in July have made for a jittery climate in Turkey this year, with independent film market research firm Antrakt predicting a 9% drop in ticket sales from 2015.
Still, the industry remains on course to crack 50 million admissions for the fourth year running, and overall signs point toward B.O. holding strong in the years ahead, according to Antrakt’s Deniz Yavuz,
“A 10-15% drop or increase each year in total ticket sales is normal,” he says. “With the capacity of production and the capacity of theaters that we have now reached in Turkey, it will not be possible to go below 40 million ticket sales.”
One source of optimism is a strong appetite for Turkish films among local auds: topped by laffer “Düğün Dernek 2: Sünnet” (“Unconventional Circumcision”) and romance “Mucize” (“The Miracle”), the country boasted the highest local market share in Europe in 2015, with domestic fare taking home 57% of the total box office. That trend looks to continue this year, with Turkish pics accounting for six of the top 10 highest-grossing films so far.
The success might partly be attributed to a production boom that has seen the number of local pics rise from roughly 40 a decade ago to a record 138 last year. A government push to support the local biz in 2004 is bearing fruit, with some filmmakers getting as much as 50% of their budgets from government coin. Producers have meanwhile benefited from the bullish economy that charged out of the gates at the turn of the millennium.
Exhibitors are also making gains. As shopping malls continue to rise across the country, theater chains like Cinemaximum, which accounts for more than half of Turkey’s box office, have cashed in. Earlier this year, Muzaffer Yildirim, CEO of the Mars Entertainment Group which owns Cinemaximum, said Turkey is his company’s fastest-growing market, after Russia and China.
More than 30 new movie theaters have opened their doors this year, and of the country’s 434 cinemas, 171 have been built since 2012. Mars, which was acquired by South Korea’s CJ-CGV in April, is ramping up efforts to expand across the country, rolling out new theaters for underserved populations in eastern and southeastern Turkey.
Of course, such expansion might not last. While Turkey enjoyed dynamic growth throughout the ‘00s, a broader European slowdown, along with the destabilizing impact of the war in neighbouring Syria, has seen the economy stall in recent years. The exhibition space may be reaching a saturation point. “There is over-capacity at all locations in Turkey where you could go into competition,” says Yavuz.
Scratch the surface of the rosy numbers depicting a production boom, too, and you’ll notice that roughly 80% of Turkish films are losers at the box office.
Overshadowing everything, of course, is a growing uncertainty about where the country is heading. Following in the wake of the failed coup attempt in July, a government crackdown netted more than 70,000 soldiers, police, judges, academics and others in what it insists is evidence of a wide-scale plot. Critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggest it simply points to his increasingly authoritarian rule.
“The deepening political chaos has created uneasiness,” says Yavuz, echoing the concerns of many. However, he notes that there was no “sharp drop” in ticket sales in the coup attempt’s aftermath, suggesting that the box office can perhaps weather the storm.
While last year’s 60.5 million ticket sales were just off 2014’s record-setting pace, Yavuz says there’s still enormous room for growth: with a year-round occupancy rate of just 12-13%, he says Turkish cinemas could see sales grow to even double their current highs.
What’s needed are more quality, commercially viable films, not simply the low-brow laffers that dominate the box office, and the high-brow arthouse fare for which the country is known abroad.
Most of all, Yavuz adds, “What is required for the cinema sector in Turkey to develop is peace.”