An interview with Izzet Pinto, by Joshua Carney
Starting in 2006 with just a single TV show, Perfect Bride, and two people, Global Agency has blossomed into the world’s fastest-growing distributor of TV content and the leading distributor of Turkish series. The firm, which now boasts a staff of 25 from all over the world, also handles film, TV formats (the ready-made concept, design, and branding of a show), and an increasing number of non-Turkish programs as well.
I recently had a chance to chat with Global’s founder and CEO, Izzet Pinto, at his penthouse offices in Istanbul’s Nişantaşı neighborhood. We talked about the show that brought it all together for Global, the Ottoman costume drama Magnificent Century. Century’s worldwide success followed on that of other Turkish dramas, but its uptake in so many countries at once is unprecedented, and Global is a big part of what made that happen.
How did you land the job representing Magnificent Century?
Well, I was already representing some of the films by Timur Savci’s TIMS production company, so we had a connection. When I heard that they were starting to produce Magnificent Century, I literally begged to represent it. It wasn’t easy. It took several meetings for me to convince Timur, but I showed him a great road map, detailing how to make it big. Luckily, he trusted me, and I still thank him for the chance because that was our big break. All companies have milestones, and for us this was the piece that brought worldwide attention along with great financial success. It’s clearly been good for them too.
How did you get to know Timur Savci?
Just through representing the films. But when we met we realized that we have a lot in common. We have similar minds in terms of the way we see work: we’re both entrepreneurs, and we share values like sincerity and trustworthiness, which isn’t always easy to find in this business. Neither of us is crazy for money, but we’re both driven by success. So Timur knew my character and that’s why he was able to turn the project over to me. It was his baby: he trusted me with it and that’s how it started. But I’m sure neither he nor I imagined this kind of success. We were optimistic, but what the show achieved was way beyond expectations.
It has the potential to be among the most watched shows on the planet at this point, right?
Exactly. It has over 200 million viewers now, and it’s going to China this summer. It reaches places like Lithuania, Pakistan, Afghanistan—countries that are really hard to enter.
Do you have any comments on Timur Savci’s plans to take a break from entertainment? He noted at the start of February that he’d be stepping away from production for a few years.
Well, when he first told me I was happy for him. Some have asked me whether it will hurt our profits, and it might, but money isn’t the biggest thing. Production is very hectic and it was important for him to give a break to enjoy his life for a while. I am extremely happy for him. I just hope that he doesn’t stay away too long.
You’ve recently sold a music show that’s your own idea—Keep Your Light Shining—to 12 countries. Did you ever think about production?
Ahh, yes, I did. A few months ago I actually said I was planning to go into production. But then I looked around at how busy we already were and I decided to back off. Not now. We do very well with what we’re focused on and we’re planning to keep perfecting that.
What can you tell me about where Century has been sold, where it’s showing, and how that compares to what audiences see in Turkey?
Well, it’s been sold to 52 countries so far and that number will probably rise to 60 by the end of the year. At the moment it’s on the air in about 40 countries. That includes most of the Middle East and the Balkans, much of Eastern Europe, and Russia. It’s even headed to the USA, where we’ve licensed Spanish and Farsi versions. In terms of how it shows, as you know, the episodes are often around 100 minutes in Turkey. We sell it in 45-minute episodes, cut at appropriate points in the plot. This is the global standard. We sell it without subtitling or dubbing—that’s the responsibility of the companies that pick it up for broadcast.
Do you know of any major content adaptations that have been made for the sensibilities of foreign audiences?
I believe that in the Middle East and China they have censored certain parts of it, but most places they don’t do any editing at all. As you know, Turkish products are very family oriented. They don’t have any nudity or other objectionable material, so there isn’t much to edit.
Are there places that you haven’t sold the show due to political or historical sensitivities?
Not exactly. But Western Europe has always found it risky to buy Turkish series for some reason. Century is on a pay-TV channel in Italy, but that’s it so far. I think soon people there will try our shows and they’ll be happy with them. In terms of Century, we’re currently working hard to get it on in Spain, and I think that will happen soon. France is another possibility—we will see.
Do you have any comment on the controversies that the show raised in Turkey or elsewhere?
Well, it hasn’t created much international controversy. In Turkey, it’s weird. Neither the story nor the production is that controversial. I don’t understand it, honestly. Some people take it too seriously. At the end of the day it’s fiction based on the story of the Ottoman Empire. It’s simply not worth taking it so seriously.
Can you explain how your distribution works for the Middle East, since many of the broadcasters there work via satellites, and much of the programming crosses borders.
Yes, for the Middle East it’s most common to sell to a major channel and then have them distribute on a territory-by-territory basis. So, with Century, for example, we work with Dubai TV, and they have sub-licensing rights.
Last year there was a call for a boycott of Turkish programming in some parts of the Arab world after Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan spoke out against the military intervention in Egypt and severed ties with the regime there. Did this affect Century’s broadcast in the region?
Yes, there were many countries where it didn’t air for a while. I think around six months. That was towards the end of the second season. At some point, though, the boycott seemed to loosen up and now it’s back to normal as far as Century is concerned.
What can you tell me about the show’s sale to China?
We have been talking with CCTV for a very very long time. We finally convinced them and it will go on the air in a month or two. It’s the first Turkish series that they’re trying, and we hope it will be a success. We’d like to license other shows to them as well.