Focus on the Nordics shines the spotlight on Scandinavia

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Article from Cineuropa:

Outstanding drama, documentaries and formats: the creativity star is shining on the Nordic countries, and this is closely connected to innovation (indeed, half of the 20 best-paid YouTubers in the world have a Nordic connection).

This “Nordic factor” was investigated in a focus organised at this year’s MIPTV, which asked the question: how are content and broadcasters evolving in this changing environment where Netflix, after its launch in 2012, reached 800,000 subscribers in just a few months? It is undeniable that technology is crucial to the channels’ evolution: “We are now pursuing a massive transformation from traditional broadcasters into user-centred operators because we want to interact with our audience 24/7, and we believe that local content plus tech is king,” said Casten Almqvist, CEO and president of Swedish channel TV4. This implies hiring an increasing number of technical staff and intensifying the collaboration with telecommunications operators. Since 2009, TV4 has been working with Ericsson, which its executive vice-president, Magnus Mandersson, defined as the “best-kept secret in television”, since not many people in the industry are aware that its Broadcast & Media Services division distributes over 2.7 million hours of programming for more than 500 channels internationally.

Speaking about how the Nordic entertainment brands are reinventing content, Mikko Pölla, group creative director of Rovio Entertainment, the Finnish mobile-gaming company that expanded globally following the success of its Angry Birds title (see the news), said: “Now that everything is available on the same device – books, films, games, music, etc – all media are competing for the same audience at the same time, and no matter what the technology is, people only want to share what makes them feel cool. It’s important to maintain one’s tone of voice, to do something unique, as we did when we launched our ToonsTV channel two years ago; that has now reached five billion subscribers.”

Risto Kuulasmaa, head of TV and online at YLE (the Finnish national broadcaster), compared public broadcasters to three-star hotels: “They are good for our senior audience, but we have to become relevant for young audiences.” That is why YLE co-foundedTubeCON, Scandinavia’s biggest YouTube-themed convention, and it also has a plan to create a “new youth platform to be launched next autumn, an app that will play our online catalogue and will be a mix of original, in-house and user-generated content”.

In any case, drama will continue to play a central role in broadcasters’ investment strategies. In the section dedicated to “The Hottest Drama from the Cold”, Henrik Björn, director and showrunner of Jordskott, spoke about the series, the last episode of which will be aired next Monday on Swedish channel SVT. It is described as a combination of police story and mystery, with added fantasy elements connected to Nordic mythology. “When he proposed the series to us,” explained Christian Wikander, head of drama at SVT, “his company had no track record, so he brought us this short test pilot lasting ten minutes and convinced us: it’s so rare to see something during the development process, and it really helps you to understand the uniqueness of the project.”

This is the so-called “own vision” that is so carefully fostered in Denmark, thanks to the work of channels like DR. Piv Bernth, head of drama for fiction at DR, remarked: “It is especially the public broadcasters, which don’t depend on earning money, that need to be courageous.” Other Danish channels, like TV2, are following the example, explained scriptwriter Dunja Gry Jensen, creator of Norskov, a drama centred on the titular provincial Danish town, which will be aired in September on TV2.

Emma Vestrheim

Emma Vestrheim is the editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia. Originally from Australia, she is now based in Bergen, Norway, and attends major Nordic film festivals to conduct interviews and review new films.