In the last month, I have had quite an adventure. I got the chance to finally explored Istanbul and the Aegean cost of Turkey. Along the way, I visited with my aunt and cousin in their beautiful house on the island of Büyükada, took a road trip through turkish countryside, visited the ruins of Troy, climbed up the hill to Pergamon, walked the main boulevard of Ephesus, looked out over Miletus and Priene, and ended my trip in the seaside yacht town of Bodrum, where some dear friends of mine were getting married.
On my return, I had 4 days to organize and shoot most of the web series I have been working on for the last few months! “Make a Webseries” was one of my new years resolutions. I can now almost check that off the list! But more on that in another post…
In this post I want to tell a quick story of our time in Istanbul and some thoughts on tech and media in the city.
Getting off the plane, we took a very modern but super packed street car into the center of town. We passed tons of new high-rise housing developments, some ruins of an old gate, gritty downtown areas, bustling shopping streets, and the palace gardens. The tram continued past Eminönü mosque and the packed Spice Bazaar over the bridge, on to Kavatas port where we switched to a cool funicular to take us up the hill to Taksim Square.
We stayed on the northern edge of the happening neighborhood, Beyoğlu, right up near Taksim. We were pretty lucky with our hotel location, it was on a quite and well lit street. But just 3-4 blocks away, the neighborhood got really sketchy, especially at night. It was full of abandoned buildings and demolished storefronts; it was poorly lit and there were all these creepy looking guys hanging around on the sidewalks. But it looked like many of these blocks were just about to undergo a huge renovation project. Signs hung from these buildings announcing new condo projects, or hotels to be built in the next year. The guy running our hotel told us, “In 2 years, this neighborhood has changed so much, and in 2 years it will change even more”.
All over Istanbul, these grungy old blocks are being fixed-up. Some areas are also getting prettier, safer and more prosperous. Things are growing, gentrifying, getting pricier.
Just across the big boulevard from our hotel, closer to the major shopping street Istiklal, was a far more colorful and lively world. We spent most of our days exploring this part of town. While Istiklal itself was pretty generic, the area all around it was so much fun to experience. There were very swank areas right next to some family oriented neighborhoods, just down the road from some extremely loud clubs and bars. Some parts were touristy, full of light and music, other streets were quiet, cool, & intimate. There was so much activity in Beyoğlu and so many people, it is hard to imagine that this neighborhood is only a tiny part of this massive city!
I think the most interesting thing about Istanbul is the general feeling of momentum you experience here. It feels like things are happening, that the city is changing fast. For example, there are huge infrastructural developments are underway, including the extension of the limited public transportation network. Renovation and new building sites are going up all over the place. With its independent currency, the Turkish lira (), keeping its prices attractive to international investors, Turkey seems immune to a lot of the problems facing neighboring eurozone countries on the Mediterranean. And this has created an optimism, as well as a growing confidence, in the people.
Istanbul is almost always described as a crossroads, but I think it is also a launchpad… at least in the new media/tech world. A number of small international tech start-ups chose Istanbul as the test market site for their new apps. They did this because Istanbul, and turkey in general, has an increasingly connected and highly concentrated population of tech-savvy young people. It is a fertile market for new mobile technology. Istanbul is itself home to a number of tech start-ups, however these tend to create clone apps for the turkish market. For more see this ReadWriteWeb.com article. Still the talent is definitely there, so maybe it is just a matter of time before the ideas start poring out of Istanbul as well! China was once the place for knock-offs (well, to be fair it still sometimes is) but over time it has also developed into a country of innovation. Hopefully a similar phenomenon is starting to occur in the Istanbul tech sector!
In the world of traditional communication media, especially broadcasting, Turkey is huge. With 18 million homes with televisions, it is also large producer of entertainment goods, such as tv series, for its own domestic market. Many of these turkish series actually also find distribution throughout the middle east. And as such, it acts as a bridge between Europe and the Middle east in more ways than just geographically. It is actually in an ideal strategic location to potentially bridge the gap on social issues or politics through its large communication networks. Of course, if it will actually do so, is still up for debate. There remains some concerns about Turkey’s attitude towards freedom of the press (see this article for more). For some of the latest stats on the film market in turkey, see this variety article. For general facts and figures on the media landscape, see here.
Istanbul definitely has the energy and momentum to once again become one of the great world cities, on par with the London’s and Tokyo’s of the world. It is also poised to experience major growth across media sectors, which means it could become an even brighter hotspot for young international talent. Istanbul really is a city to watch!