We talked to Varol Yaşaroğlu, the creator of Turkey’s most famous cartoon hero King Shakir, and Nazlı Güney, the brand representative.
By ENGİN İNAN*
The King Shakir is the most popular, most watched and most read cartoon character in Türkiye. Along with the release of a new movie in February 16th, the King Shakir will enter in the world of games. We interviewed the creator Varol Yaşaroğlu and Brand Consultant Nazlı Güney.
King Shakir is one of Cartoon Network’s most watched shows and the first Turkish production broadcast on the channel. It became one of the most watched works on Netflix. Its movies are watched a lot. Today, it is broadcast in many different countries around the world. What is the reason why King Shakir is so popular around the world?
VAROL Y: Kral Şakir (King Shakir) is actually a content that has a lot of local elements. It’s a good cartoon that reflects our culture and family values. If we look at Japanese anime and manga, they also keep their locality in most of the cartoons, but many of the themes are universal. In this sense, our themes also have a universal value.
For example, in a movie, King Shakir can be a kid who wants to be a Youtuber, or a kid who wants to save the world. There are many kids in the world who want to be Youtubers. It is a universal theme. We made our movie Land of Pirates, pirates actually exist in the world, we have them too. Our characters go to parallel universes and have very different adventures. Children of the world are very familiar with such adventures.
Children have a very different relationship with King Shakir.
I now receive messages from children all over the world. There is also a lot of interest in our books. Even children who never read books read King Shakir. Like an object of affection, they take pictures with their King Shakir copies, just like they take pictures with their first bicycles.
King Shakir is one of the most watched Turkish works in the global arena. How did the success story begin abroad?
VY: In fact, we entered the world stage with Cartoon Network in the MENA region. In that region, we translated the cartoon into 8 different dialects in 25 countries. There are dialect differences in the Arabic language, and so it was translated into different dialects in different parts of the region. It was successful there, and then it started to get noticed in different parts of the world. Most recently, Disney+ bought “King Shakir: Recycling”, streamed it in 150 countries and had it translated into all languages, which was also a milestone for us. That was really the biggest global breakthrough for us so far.
We are currently in talks with several platforms. YouTube is also very important to us. In addition to platform and free TV sales, we want to be very active on YouTube. King Shakir’s YouTube success in Türkiye is very promising. In the MENA region, we’ve actually just started working on YouTube, about two months ago, and it’s growing at an incredible rate. It is now being translated into many different languages like Spanish and Hindi.
We participated in the Abu Dhabi Book Fair in cooperation with the Turkish Ministry of Culture and signed a contract with the biggest publisher in that region. We are doing world-class work and we can see our potential in these events. Of course, there is a serious teamwork behind this success. A professional team manages the whole process. Very detailed style guides were prepared. We renew them every year. I think this professional work will ensure our success in the global arena.
SALE OF CHILDREN’S CONTENT IS DIFFERENT
NAZLI GÜNEY: When we talk about selling content abroad, the first thing that comes to mind is the sale of Turkish dramas and TV series, which have become a success story in the world. Although this is a good example for the industry, there is a difference in children’s content.
Technically, it is a very different process from selling standard TV series. Therefore, our pace has to be different from the pace of those who sell TV series. It might be more accurate to think of us as a company that markets brands overseas rather than a company that sells content overseas. When you sell a standard content, you make the sale and the work is largely done. When content is sold in the kids’ world, our relationship with that country is really just beginning. What we expect from our content is that it serves as a spokesperson for our brand. When we enter a country, we are not just selling the show, we are bringing our whole brand there, just like in Türkiye.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT TV CHANNELS
Kids should not only watch King Shakir on TV, they should see our books when they go to the bookstore, buy our clothes when they go to the mall, and carry our bags. In Türkiye, we are happy that we have been able to turn a Turkish cartoon into a 360° brand that can be everywhere in the lives of children and families. Now, when we make a content sale in the countries, our approach is to make sure that this sale enables us to realize this 360° brand movement.
This approach affects all of our efforts. Let’s say a region has five major channels and one of them has the highest audience share. It would be great to sell the content to that broadcaster, but if that company only airs 1 out of 20 kids’ content that they buy, selling to them would risk the airing of the content. That would put the whole operation at risk. So we have to do our due diligence to determine the next steps. Throughout the process, we have gained a lot of expertise. 10 years ago we were only negotiating with TV channels, then we were negotiating with different VOD platforms and now we are negotiating with Fast TV channels. We have to understand all these innovations and create new strategies accordingly.
“King Shakir” is a cartoon movie with high production quality. Has Türkiye started to institutionalize the sector in this field?
VY: We all know how does the humor magazines in Türkiye. They couldn’t survive this age. But we have extremely talented young illustrators, cartoonists and boast a very high potential especially in this field. In recent years, some cartoonists switched to the animation, and I believe more will do the same. They should have done so earlier. There are two sides of our coin, first is the production. We have significant potential to create major works. The other side of the coin is brand creation and management. I observe major problems in the branding side of the sector. The world realized the importance of branding in fiction and comics at least a hundred years ago. We just have started to realize this basic fact. I don’t fancy to remain as a production company. It doesn’t suit my perspective in this life. My strong suit is in the branding side.
I want to create value and can see a tremendous value potential in this field. We work to realize this potential and do get our efforts’ worth. For instance, “King Shakir: Land of Pirates” broke all times’ record. The previous record holder in Türkiye was the “Ice Age”. We managed to break that record. So, potential is there, brainpower and talent is there for Türkiye.
King Shakir achieved success not just as an animation but also in the periodical and book sales. What is King Shakir’s position in the publications sector in Türkiye which has been experiencing crises in recent years?
BOOKS AS A DRIVING FORCE
VY: King Shakir is still competitive in the book publishing in Türkiye. In fact, it is the leading licensed toy. Perhaps we are unique in the world in this respect. Our driving force has always been books. Although Türkiye is not a country that is prominent in publishing, King Shakir books are the segment we sell the most. Maybe this is more normal in the UK, but in a country where the level of book readership is so low, this is a very important achievement.
For example, the sales of our latest book were very good. I was also surprised because I was expecting a decline due to the economic crisis. I realized that parents still see books as the most valuable thing they can buy for their children. Personally, I find this very meaningful and beautiful. But as I said, it is surprising in this economic crisis.
You have licensed products in different categories. In which countries do you sell these products?
NG: Our licensing processes overseas are actually just beginning. First, we are waiting for the broadcasting to be established and achieve a certain level of recognition, and then the products will follow. Therefore, licenses will follow publishing. But our prediction, based on our conversations with the markets, is that toys will lead the way in this business, followed by publishing among all categories.
VY: We are probably the only actor in the licensing in Türkiye. Other companies just broadcast animations but did not try their hands in the branding and licensing. There is a need for incentives in these processes. Animation is an expensive investment, and the return usually takes time. The largest share of incentives is needed during this first creative process.
I assume the gaming world will play a role during the process.
VY: Yes, I recently attended the GameX expo. I was not aware how big a show it is. I learned after that it is one of the biggest expos of Europe. We have published a King Shakir game in collaboration with Funverse. Actually a multitude of titles were published but this one has become global now as it was listed in Android and IOS markets. Gaming is another reflection of branding efforts. Sandbox also acquired King Shakir in metaverse along with likes of the Muhteşem Yüzyıl and Galatasaray brands. We continue our works for this platform. On February 16th, our new movie will be released in theaters and the game will be available on this platform all over the world at the same time. It will be launched as the first metaverse game released with a movie.
Is there a connection between the countries where King Shakir is popular and the countries where we sell TV series? Can we talk about commonality of the market?
NG: King Shakir has an edge in that respect. Despite the recent globalization, there are still stark cultural differences between the west and the east. The Far East produce advanced quality animations, but the storytelling techniques of that content can sometimes fail to meet with the western world. And the western world contents may not always find the best audience in the east.
But in Türkiye we live at the conjunction of these two worlds. This geographical status is reflected in our storytelling. The kids’ content, the kids’ humor we create resonates with both the east and the west. There are parts of world where Turkish TV shows are already successful. We see that the demand for our Cartoons is higher in those parts. But I must underline that the tone, the language of our cartoons is more suitable for the global markets which gives our contents a greater advantage.
Which are your most successful markets, and which are the new target markets for you?
NG: Right now, our content is doing very well in the Arab world. The second highest demand is in South America, where we are taking cautious steps to get it right. In addition, we believe that the Asian market has great potential due to its cultural relevance, although the market is not yet familiar with Turkish content.