Kinnevik’s Bold Expansion

If the sheer momentum of the Kinnevik conglom over the past year is any indication, Scandinavia’s most vertically integrated broadcast group plans to expand on the world media stage as no other Swedish company has ever dared. And it will be using its production operations as a major curtain raiser.

Kinnevik, one of the top 50 media groups in the world, has been diversifying out of the family business of forestry since the mid-1980s, when topper Jan Stenbeck started up the first pan-Scandi commercial network TV3, broadcasting it from the U.K. at a time when commercial TV was largely illegal in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Over the past year, the org has expanded its media activities at a dizzying speed.

It pumped up its pack of channels stretched across Scandinavia from eight to 12, snapped up interests in terrestrial channels in all three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), reshuffled its media and film operations under subsid the Modern Times Group, and moved up to the front burner plans to launch a terrestrial channel in Finland.

In November, MTG itself started a major restructuring of its 14 Scandinavian production outfits, which churn out more than 500 hours a year, from gameshows like “Jeopardy!” and “Rescue 911”-like reality programming to mainstream entertainment and interactive productions. From next January, they’ll launch internationally as one major production and sales group.

Another reason for the reorganization is to synergize production operations to prepare for a serious push by Kinnevik into Finland, the Baltics and Central Europe. The group already has one production outfit in Finland and another in Estonia servicing its Tallinn-based commercial channel EVTV. With commercial channels in all three Baltic States, plans to bid for other licenses, and sat/cable thematic channels expected to spin off those, more production companies are sure to follow, says Peter Lundin, president of Strix, Kinnevik’s oldest and largest production company.

Lundin says the reorganization “will allow us to synergize our program-making to create a base for more growth and investment in these areas.” Similar plans are afoot in Poland, where MTG is bidding for a terrestrial license, and in the Czech Republic, where it’s huddling with local players to start up a channel.

Kinnevik’s media lunge eastward may be new for the conglom, but it’s no stranger to doing business in those territories. It already has home shopping services in Finland and the Baltics, and owns the largest mobile-phone company in Russia, a country it also expects to enter in the not-too-distant future.

“Sweden has been trading with these countries for centuries,” says Lundin. “They’re used to us, and we don’t look upon them as so strange or different. They’re our neighbors.”

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