TV is drawing up the agenda of life in Turkey

    How did it all start?
    Turkish people had to wait for 32 years to receive the first domestic television transmission signal. During early 60s, when television was enjoying its golden age all around the globe, Turkish government was still discussing if it was feasible to invest in visual communications. Lack of adequate national infrastructure and financial resources were among the major factors delaying the establishment of television in Turkey.

    The Turkish-German TV technology collaboration agreement ceremonyIt was 1968 when the newly established (May 1, 1964; law #359) Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) started to broadcast with a 5Kw transmitter from a small studio located in the capital, Ankara. The early transmissions were partly funded by West Germany, reaching to a population of around one million people. During those early days, TRT was utilizing very basic equipment and transmissions were limited to certain hours. In addition, TRT studios didn't have film editing capability; therefore, for example, a three-hour show had to be recorded within those three-hours, without any interruption.

    The first news broadcast on TV by Zafer Cilasun - January 31, 1968The early test transmissions lasted for four years and the coverage area was only the city of Ankara. In those days, television was the most luxurious item in an Ankara residential. Other cities such as Istanbul, Izmir and Edirne had to live with special taped programs and wait until 1970s, when TRT started to broaden its coverage (First test broadcasts in Izmir and Istanbul were made on September 7, 1970 and August 30, 1971, respectively). By the end of 1977, the total transmission power was raised to 1417Kw and the number of transmitters were increased to 58. At that time, the broadcasts were covering 60 percent of Turkey's population. The first live transmission sold abroad was the "April 23rd International Childeren's Festival" which was organized by TRT for the first time. The show was broadcast live at several European countries.

    The age of color-TV
    The first color transmission was the new year's eve show which was broadcast on December 31, 1981. Throughout 1982, TRT continued special color TV test broadcasts in between existing black & white programs. That was a big excitement for the people, and the ones who already purchased imported color TV receivers, were already enjoying the weather forecast reports and public speeches of Mr. Kenan Evren in color. It was July 1, 1984 when TRT officially switched to full-color transmission. The next step was to increase the number of channels, improve the quality of programs and extend the viewing time.

    End of the single-channel era
    On October 6, 1986, Turkish Radio and Television Corporation established TRT-2, the second state channel based in Istanbul. Originally, TRT-2 was reaching to 20 percent of the Turkish population and its focus was mainly on culture and art. In 1990, TRT-2's coverage area was extended to 80 percent (of the Turkish population). The main enabler of this high coverage rate was a transponder reserved at Intelsat satellite in 1987. After the deal was secured among TRT, Turkish PTT and AFRTS (American Forces Radio and Television Service), TRT started to beam TRT-1 and TRT-2 signals to the whole country from 240 MHz band II GHz. These signals were then redirected to the public by PTT's TVRO (satellite TV receiver) network (In 1998, the government decided that this network had to be transferred to TRT, since Turk Telekom -- the Turkish telco spun-off from PTT in 1995 -- was about to be privatized).

    On October 2, 1989, TRT initiated a new project called GAP-TV. Utilizing the transmission channel of TRT-2, GAP-TV was being broadcast when TRT-2 was not on the air (between 14:00 and 17:30) and was directed to the people of Southeastern Turkey. With its regional broadcast, GAP-TV was designed to support the ongoing "Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP)" which aimed to provide the local population with educational, cultural and agricultural training programs. Following the relocation of GAP-TV studios from Ankara to Diyarbakir, GAP-TV was reaching to 60 percent of the local population in Southeastern Turkey. Shortly after the debut of GAP-TV, TRT initiated TRT-3 on October 10, 1989. TRT-3 was originally being broadcast between 21:00 - 24:00 only in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. It was designed as a foreign movie and documentary channel. Later, its programming content started to focus on youth and sports.

    Private or pirate?
    With the dawn of the new decade, TRT's monopoly position turned out to be in jeopardy. For most part of the 80s, people who had satellite dishes placed on their balconies or roofs were already able to watch various foreign TV channels. However, in March 1990, this time a private Turkish TV channel, Star 1, started to broadcast via satellite from Germany, taking advantage of a gap in the telecommunications law. Shortly after, in 1992, ShowTV was established in Paris and started to beam its signals to Turkey. Turkish audience was very well receptive of this new movement and they started to rush to buy satellite dishes to watch these new-comers. Private channels offered a new way of life to Turkish people. A colorful and an un-censored one. News and information were no more handed down from on high. Sex scenes were no longer cut. Especially by securing rights of broadcasting popular soccer clubs' games, these new TV channels became everybody's favorite.

    First on-the-air dates of selected TV networks in TurkeyTRT was competing with these new channels on a different dimension. Instead of improving its programming quality, TRT continued its expansion policy and established TRT-INT (TRT International) on February 28, 1990. TRT-INT was primarily being beamed to the Turkish population living in Germany. However, its coverage area included most of Western Europe and Northern Africa. TRT-INT's mission was to provide the Turkish population living away from their homeland with cultural and educational programming. TRT-INT was perceived as a great service as it offered news, information, movies, entertainment and music in Turkish in the middle of Europe. Shortly after, on July 30, 1990, TRT initiated TRT-4, an educational channel. TRT-4 was located in Izmir and its target audience was high school and college students.

    1992 was the booming year of television in Turkey. TRT started its TRT-AVRASYA service, beaming to Caucasia and Central Asia on April 27, 1992. TRT-AVRASYA's mission was to foster the existing cultural and social ties among Turkey and other Turkic nations. On the other hand, other private channels started to follow Star 1's suit and began to send their signals all over the country. Most of these channels such as Kanal 6, HBB, TGRT, Kanal D, ATV and STV were backed by either big newspapers, large companies, banks or even politicians. Then municipalities in major cities started to buy dishes and transmitters to rebroadcast these channels locally. Moreover, PTT was using its TVROs to redirect these broadcasts to its cable-TV subscribers. Consequently, people no longer had to buy satellite dishes to watch the private channels; the signals were everywhere and free-to-air.

    As the perception of state-monopoly was weakened, several stations started to even broadcast from Turkey, without linking-up to a satellite. Shortly after, hundreds of stations started up and anybody who had a camera, a video recorder and a primitive transmitter was in the television business. Such a concept was clearly against the constitution and due to primitive technology they were using (e.g. most transmitters lacked filters to screen out adjacent channels), most of the private stations' broadcasts were interfering with police and air-traffic-control communications. At least, this was the state's claim when it decided to shut all the pirate channels down in Mach 1993. Nobody liked that decision. Even the prime-minister publicly announced that she wanted her TV and radio back. Drivers tied black ribbons to their car radio aerials and many other protest campaigns were organized all over the country. It was clear that Turks would not accept a return to the old days, where radio and television was under state's monopoly. Inevitably, during the fall of the same year, the ban on the private radio and TV stations was eliminated and finally in April 1994, the government officially ended the state monopoly on broadcasting.

    Screen-shot of the Turkish Cable TV videoplexerGreen-light for the most colorful TV landscape in the world
    Following the end of monopoly, the government established the Radio and Television Council (RTUK) to regulate the stations. Among the tasks of RTUK were to monitor the private broadcasts to confirm that they were aligned with Turkish rules and culture, and to compare the technical capabilities of private stations to choose who will go national, who will stay regional, and who will cease to exist. There is a limited room on the spectrum for national stations and applicants will be awarded accordingly (the final decision is still pending).

    RTUK was established as an independent entity responsible from protecting the audience from "unwanted" broadcasts. However, instead of working on proactive measures, RTUK selected to remain as a reactive controller, employing premature punishment techniques, such as blocking broadcasts of popular TV and radio stations for temporary durations.Yayinimiz RTUK tarafindan ... durdurulmustur RTUK's focus seems to be much more on political issues, whereas sex, violence, and slang are among the common themes in reality shows and even news broadcasts.

    The private television broadcasting industry in Turkey is about to mature. The first private station interStar (Star 1 was renamed as interStar following a law suit) is 10 years old and most of the newer stations already well-established their brand names. In order to capture untapped niches, Turkey already created its own MTV and CNN: Kral TV and NTV. Pay-TV market is also tapped by CINE5, offering the latest movies with encryption. However, there is still room for more specialized TV formats. Currently, with a surge in their popularity and advertising revenues, most of the private stations are not only investing in new technology but also improving their programming quality. Once the makers of TRT's most popular programs, television industry's most talented people now work hard for the success of private stations.

    Turks watch more TV than they talk with each otherTelevision plays a significant role in Turkey. According to the 1996 Eurostat and International Telecommunication Union statistics, Turkish people own more TV sets than they own telephones (26.9 versus 20.1 per 100 inhabitants). We just love it! From news programs to soccer games, Hollywood movies to Yesilcam productions, music shows to documentaries, soap operas to reality shows, "TV is drawing up the agenda of life in Turkey".

    To keep up with the mind-blowing pace of the industry growth and public demand, the government is working hard to establish the necessary infrastructure in a timely manner. After an unsuccessful attempt, Turkey launched two communication satellites Turksat 1B and Turksat 1C. The second satellite 1C, which was launched from French Guinea on July 10, 1996, is capable of transmitting 22 TV channels that can be received with 60-cm satellite dishes. Footprint of TurkSat 1-CThe Ministry of Transportation planned to transfer the TV and radio channels broadcasting from Turksat 1B to Turksat 1C and reserve 1B only for telecommunication services. Turksat 1C covers two areas simultaneously. These two areas intersect over Turkey, enabling direct reception of Turkish television transmissions both in Europe and Central Asia. Now, TRT is not alone in broadcasting to the people living outside of Turkey. In fact, many private stations use their original strategy, but this time in reverse order, to beam their signals to European countries. For example, ShowTV established a subsidiary called EuroShow to broadcast in Europe. The third Turkish satellite, Turksat 2A is in the process of being build and it has been reported that it will be operational either in late 1999 or early 2000.

    Satellite is the way to go, but that is not simply enough. 30 years after the first signal that reached to one million in Ankara, Turkish television is now available to billions via the internet. Starting in 1997 with Kanal D, many Turkish stations now utilize the capabilities of internet and send their signals to all over the world. To watch them live click here, and enjoy the show!

    by Creatonic Media Research

    (c) 2001 Creatonic Network. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted without written permission.


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