Nords grapple with tech blocks

Next stop: phone entertainment

OSLO — While other territories chew nails over a queasy Internet climate, the tech-happy Nords are cheerfully throwing pots of money at various lanes of the new-media highway.

Close to half of the nearly 25 million people in Norway, Finland, Sweden and Denmark are believed to be Internet- and mobile phone-connected, and an army of companies like Ericsson, Telenor, Bonnier, Egmont and Modern Times Group (MTG) are eyeing profits to be made from those connections.

Ericsson, which this year starts shipping third-generation (3G) applications networks and has some 50% of the global market in infrastructure, makes no bones about its interest in the entertainment industry.

“Entertainment will be a big portion of the traffic for 3G networks,” notes Ragnar Larsson, investment manager for Ericsson Business Innovation.

“Within the next two years, we will definitely see people watching video clips on their phones, and there will be much more content,” he predicts. “The only question still out there is whether it will cost too much.”

Euro telco Tele2 is partnered with MTG in Swedish-based ISP, which boasts 1.4 million registered users. Tele2 has won a 3G license for Norway and Sweden, and MTG is set provide content from its $500 million rev-plus TV, film, production, print and radio outfit to the 3G networks.

But while the Nordic territories may have a rep for chasing the cutting edge, some local execs believe the edge could be a bit sharper. Sweden claims to be a global broadband leader, yet at year’s end had only 10% penetration.

“It has been disappointing, but the bottlenecks have come from the infrastructure installation area, not our side of the business,” says Dan Willstrand, CEO of Kamera Interactive. His company has helped churn Web product for outfits such as the Associated Press and MTG’s TV production arm Strix, and is working with Endemol Entertainment.

Finnish group Alma Media, whose MTV3 channel is the market leader in that territory, just launched MTV3 Broadband on asymmetric digital subscriber lines. But Mikko Raisanen, Alma Media’s VP of broadband business development, cautions that the group “won’t get into content, like drama, for broadband until the copyright regulations are standardized.”

Telenor Broadband Services subsid Zonavi is using the large bandwidth of Nordic TV distribution nets such as (Telenor-Canal+ owned) Canal Digital to offer content, including entertainment, and has inked deals to deliver quality video-on-demand to the Scandi market.

The region’s media and entertainment powerhouses — Egmont, Sandrew Metronome, and the Bonnier Group — are also seeing visions of new revs from VOD.

Torsten Larsson, president of Bonnier Entertainment, predicts that his company could begin cashing in on such content from its main film subsid Svensk Filmindustri within the year.

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