Fredrik, you surprised the industry at the end of last year with the announcement of the deal with Korean giant CJ ENM and now everyone is wondering will there be any changes at Eccho Rights?
No, myself and Nicola, who founded the company, are still major shareholders, so it’s not an immediate change in the company. Our focus is the same - to represent independent producers in the best way and to develop the best new drama series. We had Eccho Media, who invested in us 7-8 years ago, and for some time we have been looking for a new partner to take us to the next level. Our cooperation with Eccho Media has been very good, but they are more focused on non-scripted and reality, and we are more into drama nowadays, therefore we’ve been looking for a new partner.
The main change is that CJ is replacing them as the main shareholder in Eccho Rights but that is the only thing we’ve agreed so far. CJ is one of the largest media companies in Asia and they have a very big output of drama - they do 30 drama series per year in Korea - so obviously to develop their catalog and their presence in Turkey and Europe is something on our target list. We have been working with CJ for quite some time. We did the first adaptation of Ice Adonis in Ukraine and in 2018 we did Tears of Heaven from them. We’ve been cooperating for quite some time, so it’s not that dramatic, but obviously we see that there is lots of opportunities to do series in Turkey and in Western Europe, and for us to have all the experience of CJ in everything they do will hopefully be very useful to grow Eccho Rights further. We are going to remain as a separate brand and we are going to continue to do what we do.
You mentioned that for some time you’ve been looking for a partner. Were you more interested in the financial part, or in the case of CJ for a major content powerhouse?
No, we didn’t look for money per se, the business is doing well. This was more to find somebody on a partnership level that we can share experience and develop together; not primarily financial. We wanted to have a partner who can add something to our business.
What kind of synergies do you think you will be able to create together?
First of all, we are going to jointly sell their catalog worldwide - in our markets - Europe, Latin America and so on. Then, I think we can learn from them because it is a very advanced company, so there is lots of business development that we can do together, but we don’t exactly know how to develop together yet; it’s a learning process from all sides. I think - obviously in the Turkish market they have done some projects as they invested in Mars Entertainment, which owns lots of cinemas.
They have produced several films I think also, in Turkey…
Exactly, but that is done by a different part of CJ, it’s separate from us - they have a movie division and a TV division, and we are in the TV division. So we can discuss things there, but it’s very early still - that’s what we are going to find out together.
Korean formats have been on top of the charts in Turkey for several years now. Does that also mean that you will be able export them successfully in other territories?
Yes, absolutely, we have done a number of adaptations in other parts of the world as well, and I think the Korean series have been very successful in Turkey. I don’t know if there is an official list, but I think there are 25-30 adaptations at different levels on the Turkish market of Korean scripted formats. I think Korea has been more successful as being the main hub for drama production in Asia - so it makes sense, as Turkey has been very important in Eastern Europe. We believe we can adapt more formats from them around the world, and also do new projects, new kind of co-productions or so.
Which markets do you see as potential targets?
I think the Latin American market is interesting. Of course, there Turkish dramas have been very successful, and I think we can do more there. We’ve had a few options of Korean formats in Western Europe, so there can be adaptations as there are some very high concept, very good scripts. Middle East is obviously interesting to do more where we do a lot of Turkish drama business, but I think for political reasons they are looking for alternatives sometimes, and we can do more there, but it’s still a bit early to say exactly where and how.
Since you mentioned Latin America, what have you prepared for the NATPE buyers?
We are going to announce a new series with Kanal D called Wounded Birds, produced Inci Gülen Oarr, who produced Elif that we represent. It’s a new debut series that is coming in March. That will be a big production and one of our main new series for us at NATPE that we have very high hopes for, we are already discussing some pre-sales especially in Latin America. Then, we have a new series called Invisible Heroes which is a coproduction between Chilevision and Yle Finland about the Scandinavian diplomats who saved people from being arrested by the military during the junta years. And then we have proven hits like Elif, The New Bride, Stiletto Vendetta, Cennet, etc. – so we have a pretty strong lineup for NATPE.
Will there be any changes in the catalog, like a special section for Korean formats?
Yes, we will work much more intensively on selling Korean formats - we’ve been doing that actually for quite some time already, but now we have obviously a bigger catalog to represent. We work closely together with the CJ team with placing their formats around the world.
I guess it’s still early stages, but are you thinking already of opening new offices, expanding the team with the new partner?
I think we are quite well. We have offices in Istanbul, Madrid and Seoul. We haven’t announced any immediate plans, but there are a few growth markets that we can go into, but nothing is decided yet. We are covering the world pretty well with the offices we have.
What would be the main targets for Eccho Rights in 2019?
2019 is to develop the Turkish drama markets further, because it’s a bit of (I think the turmoil in Turkey has been shaking the market a bit) and I think we need to find the next business models there. So, growing further with Turkish drama, then adapting more Korean scripts around the world, and then of course our big growth area at the moment is Nordic drama - there we have 4 different series in production or recently on air, so we are growing a lot in Western drama as well, so finding the balance between Turkey and Korea and Western Europe is our goal.
Will there be a shift towards video on demand?
Yes, of course, we just launched Trotsky on Netflix which CEETV wrote about and we are working a lot with online platforms. Obviously, I think one target is to continue to develop Turkish drama in SVOD. So far it’s only been free VOD, but I think we need to get clients to start paying for it, so that’s one major goal.