Riyadh - Saudi-owned MBC Group, the Middle East's largest broadcaster, said on Wednesday it had signed a five-year partnership with two Turkish production houses, signalling an end to an unofficial boycott imposed on Turkey by Saudi Arabia as the two countries work to improve ties.
MBC, which in March 2018 scrapped Turkish programmes including soap operas popular with Arab audiences, said in a statement that the deal would allow it to exclusively host content from Medyapim and Ay Yapim production houses, and produce original Arabic-language content in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey were at loggerheads during the 2011 "Arab Spring" over Ankara's support for political Islamist groups deemed a threat to the region's system of rule.
Tensions escalated sharply after the October 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate, and Saudi companies and businesses imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish goods.
But relations started to warm this year following huge diplomatic efforts by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, also extended to Saudi Arabia's regional allies, as Turkey's economy struggles with a slumping lira and soaring inflation that could threaten Erdogan's chances in elections planned by June 2023.
After Erdogan visited the kingdom earlier this year, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman went to Ankara in June and during that trip Turkish officials said the two countries had lifted restrictions on trade, flights and the screening of TV series, with mutual negative media coverage also halted.
MBC said Medyapim and Ay Yapim's content would be available to MBC channels and its online Shahid platform on their airing dates in Turkey.
MBC will work with Medyapim and Ay Yapim to co-develop and commission a number of Arabic-language productions, scheduled to begin filming in Saudi Arabia and in the region in the coming years, it added.
Medyapim and Ay Yapim dominate the TV industry in Turkey and beyond with prime-time shows that conquered Turkic countries, the Middle East and Latin America.
Saudi authorities took a controlling stake in MBC Group in 2018 as they seized assets from those caught up in an anti-corruption campaign launched in 2017 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)