Why Turkish Dramas Are Conquering Hispanic Audiences in the U.S. on Univision (EXCLUSIVE)

After conquering eyeballs in the Middle East, Latin America and Europe, Turkish TV dramas are now reaping stellar ratings in the U.S. on Spanish-language media giant Univision.

And at its recent upfront Univision announced it’s set to serve up more of the often female-centric skeins known in Turkey as “dizi.”

Since its U.S. launch in February, Turkish romancer “Sefirin Kizi” (The Ambassador’s Daughter) known as “La Hija del Embajador” to Hispanic viewers – who account for 19% of the U.S. population, or 63 million people – has now reached more than 9.2 million total monthly viewers, making Univision the No. 1 U.S. network among Hispanics and bilinguals and outperforming ABC, CBS, NBC, Telemundo and all cable networks in the weeknight 10 p.m. slot, Univision says.

On Univision’s UniMas network the recent premieres of female empowerment drama “Fatmagul” (pictured) retitled “Qué Culpa Tiene Fatmagül?,” which turns on its titular young woman who is raped and embarks on an intricate quest for justice, and “Erkenci Kus,” renamed “Pájaro Soñador,” have boosted its ratings in the weekly 7 p.m. timeslot, helping to make UniMas the fastest growing linear channel in the U.S. regardless of language, according to Univision.

And “Amor Eterno” (Endless Love), the first Turkish show to win an International Emmy, broke audience records on Univision in 2020.

The appetite for Turkish novelas is so strong that Univision’s new free streaming service, PrendeTV, features a channel called “Amor Turco” (Turkish Love) specifically dedicated to “dizi.” 

At Univision’s Upfront this week – which comes after last month they announced plans to merge with Mexico City-based network Televisa – Univision announced that two new Turkish dramas will play in 2021/22 on UniMás: Global megahit (Forbidden Love), which will become  “Amor Prohibido” and “A Thousand and One Nights,” to play stateside as “Las Mil y Una Noches,” loosely based on the eponymous Middle Eastern folk tales.

“The Turkish novelas you can expect to see on Univision are driven by romanticism, drama and suspense, as well as epic, complex and very well-constructed love stories with key elements of the traditional telenovela but updated for today’s viewers,” says Jessica Rodriguez, president, entertainment and chief marketing officer, Univision, who took questions from Variety about the Turkish TV phenomenon in the U.S. Edited excerpts:

Why are Turkish dramas resonating so strongly with Hispanic audiences in the U.S.?

Turkish dramas have really resonated with our audiences because of their powerful storylines which embrace universal feelings of family, love, and faith. Turkish novelas have great stories centered on family, dramatic characters, unforeseen difficulties, and modern experiences that co-exist in traditional ones – all with beautiful high-quality production and gorgeous locations. Additionally, Turkish dramas highlight the essence of the characters, reflect emotions and relationships in an organic manner, and use dramatic and action elements with great skill and creativity – all the elements for great television.  

When did this trend start on Univision?

Univision’s UniMas network aired its first Turkish novela “Entre Dos Amores” (In Between) in 2018. In 2019, Univision premiered international hit, “Amor Eterno,” which brought a unique audience to Univision and diversified our portfolio, delivering outstanding ratings and positioning Univision network No 1 in its timeslot. Since its premiere, that novela doubled its audience and registered peaks of over 900,000 viewers.

Are you noticing any changes in terms of themes or formats in new shows coming from Turkey reflected in your programming?

In recent years, Turkish dramas have evolved their storytelling, shifting from historical period dramas to more contemporary themes that center around complex love stories or luxurious, modern lifestyles as well as action series and romantic comedies. They have marked a milestone in U.S. Spanish-language TV because of their high-quality production standards, locations with beautiful scenery and their talented casts, which connect with our audience and tend to have career trajectory from one production to another. For instance, Neslihan Atagül Doğulu, protagonist of “Amor Eterno,” developed a loyal fan base who then followed her in “La Hija del Embajador.”

Are Turkish stars gaining popularity in the U.S. thanks to Univision? 

Turkish stars Neslihan Atagül Doğulu, Burak Özçivit and Kaan Urgancloğlu have gained major popularity among U.S. Hispanic audiences after their debut on Univision. Engin Akyürek is also very popular among Hispanic audiences after the premiere of “Que Culpa Tiene Fatmagul?” He is also the co-protagonist of “La Hija del Embajador”and has been a trending topic on Twitter here in the U.S. as a result of his participation in this series.

This year, Neslihan Atagül Doğulu graced the cover of “Hola” magazine’s U.S. edition with her return to Univision primetime. After her debut in “Amor Eterno,” she has seen Instagram followers in Spanish skyrocket, and lots of fans now message her in Spanish.

Univision also invited Kaan Urgancloğlu, who played Emir on “Amor Eterno,” to be part of Univision’s music award show “Premio Lo Nuestro,” and he had a special appearance  on our reality dance competition “Mira Quien Baila,” and was received with a large fan base at both events.

Another Turkish actor that has become very popular is Can Yaman, who plays the leading role in Unimas’ “Pajaro Soñador,” the first Turkish rom com to premiere in the U.S. and a current fan favorite.

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