Indies Turning Key To Ratings

Tight budgets for public broadcasters mean both good and bad news for the Nordic TV indie production sector. While some state channels are increasingly putting a lid on outside commissions, others are actively courting indie producers they see as a source of low-cost ratings winning programming.

Finnish pubcaster YLE’s situation is not unlike that of other state broadcasters – NRK in Norway, SVT in Sweden and DR in Denmark. They all have full capacity production facilities and bloated employee rolls and there is little reason to commission outside, except on the creative side.

YLE has put a 10% cap on all indie production, but according to Martti Soramaki, head of media development for the org, they regret the quota. “We’d love to commission more outside because it would make us more flexible and strengthen what we offer. Unfortunately, we just can’t afford it.”

YLE emerged from a crisis over a year ago which ended in the sacking of much of its management, and its market share slipping to a low 42% in the first year MTV3 broke away to start up Finland’s only commercial channel. MTV3 now has a 43% market share, but next year it is expected to get its first real competition when a new terrestrial channel is launched.

One of the largest indie companies in Finland is Broadcasters Ltd., which serves up some 250 hours a year to YLE and MTV3, mainly with talkshows like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Broadcasters’ producer and president Juha Pynkkynen predicts the new channel’s programs could more than double the work that goes to the indie production sector.

At press time, however, Broadcasters was in late-stage negotiations with the Kinnevik Corp.’s media arm, Modern Times Group, for a buyout of its operations, a move that would leave VIP Vision, Crea Video and interactive upstart Saraxa fighting over the largest of the indie contracts.

Last year, some 64% of all production at SVT was done in-house, up slightly from the 1993 figure, with most of the rest being diverted to various co-productions around the Nordic territories and Europe. The latest in-house coup was struck in mid- November when SVT persuaded Ingmar Bergman to leave the Royal Dramatic Theatre to produce a new TV drama, “Larmar Och Gorsig Till.”

Norwegian state broadcaster NRK lately has been earning a reputation for some high-profile co-productions, including the Liv Ullmann-helmed costumer, “Kristin Lavransdatter,” a big-budget costumer made with Norsk Film. Axel Helgeland, managing director of Northern Lights Film and TV Production, believes the number of contacts between NRK’s drama section and the indie production sector is increasing, but adds, “To what extent this leads to an increasing volume of money going into the outside sector remains to be seen.”

Helgeland’s company is currently at work on a six-hour TV series, “Enigma,” based on the Knut Hamsun biography written by English author Robert Ferguson. A two-hour feature film also is being prepared for theatrical release.

With most of the local commercial programs being churned out by major media companies like Schibsted (through Rubicon), Svensk Filmindustri (Wegelius) and Kinnevik (Strix and other companies), indie feature film outfits are being tapped for high-quality drama by NRK.

The pubcaster currently is producing “The Brewer” in a $16 million co-production, the largest in the Nordic territories. The 12-part series, is the epic saga of the family behind the Carlsberg Brewery. In addition to Dansk Bank, Nordisk and DR, other backers are SVT and NRK.

Nordisk producer Erik Crone says the full impact of the new commitment to the indie production sector has yet to be felt.

“In the future,” he says, “there will be a great need for Danish programs and Danish drama, and if they don’t nurse the talent now, it won’t be there five years down the line. They’ll be dependent on the international market. In a way, it will be like slitting their own throats.”

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