A traditionally fertile ground for storytellers, Scandinavia’s TV drama landscape has grown tremendously in the past few years, bolstered by the boom of global and local streaming, pay-TV services such as Netflix, HBO, CMore and Viaplay across the Nordics.
After spending several years focusing on acquisitions and co-productions, all these new players have started diving into original commissions. Both in terms of volume and quality, streaming services have been driving the upward trend.
“In Sweden alone, the number of series being produced every year has nearly tripled, and the number of potential buyers for drama, crime or comedy series has gone up from one or two to seven or eight,” says Pontus Edgren, the managing director and co-owner of FLX, the Swedish outfit that is producing “Quicksand,” Netflix’s first Swedish-language original.
Penned by “The Bridge” writer Camilla Ahlgren, “Quicksand” follows a high school student on trial following a mass shooting at a prep school in Stockholm’s wealthiest suburb.
Since launching in Scandinavia in 2012, Netflix has gradually ramped up its investment in local drama. Netflix started out co-producing series such as “Rita,” the Danish comedy-drama created by Christian Torpe, and “Lilyhammer,” the American-Norwegian show created by and starring Steven Van Zandt.
Netflix is now taking its commitment to the next level with two Nordic original commissions. Besides “Quicksand,” it ordered “The Rain,” a dystopian thriller series created by Jannik Tai Mosholt (“Borgen”), Esben Toft Jacobsen (“The Great Bear”) and Christian Potalivo (“The Pig”).
“Scandinavia is home to many great storytellers and we have seen through the years that these well-crafted Nordic series work well everywhere,” says Yann Lafarge, head of corporate communication at Netflix, who pointed out its first international original series was “Lilyhammer.”
“Scandinavia is one of the first overseas markets where Netflix launched, and proved one of its most successful; it lured a very high percentage of the population on the day of its launch,” says Lafarge.
Meanwhile, HBO Europe announced last month it had commissioned its first Swedish original, “Gosta,” a half-hour comedy series created by Lukas Moodysson (“Show Me Love”) and centering on a child psychologist who moves from the city to rural Sweden.
HBO Nordics will be doing two to three Scandinavian originals going forward, says Isabelle Péchou, international co-productions manager at TrustNordisk, which handles worldwide sales on “Gösta” outside HBO Europe’s footprint.
The stiff competition from Netflix and other premium services has also spurred the Scandinavian broadcasters and platforms.
Edgren says for many years, “local series were often crime shows adapted from bestseller books like ‘Wallander’ and ‘Beck’ … and there is now a clear demand and possibility to produce more sub-genres and in many cases more edgy, original ideas, U.S.-cable inspired and hence younger-audience-targeted series.”
By bringing a flow of high-quality series to the Nordics, “Netflix and HBO altered the tastes of local audiences and in turn encouraged Nordic broadcasters and streamers to broaden their horizons in order to feed the new demand,” Péchou says.
Viaplay, the MTG-owned streaming service that is related to broadcasting group TV3, stepped into originals in 2016, kicking off with the hit American-Swedish series “Swedish Dicks,” the L.A.-set cop comedy starring Keanu Reeves.
“Swedish Dicks,” whose second season just wrapped shooting, drew record viewing on Viaplay, more than any other crime series, says Lina Brounéus, head of content for Viaplay. “Our DNA at Viaplay is to not set boundaries, collaborate with international and Nordic partners and find innovating ways to create material.”
Viaplay now has 15 projects in the pipeline, including “Alex,” a dark-edged thriller series penned by Niklas Rockström (“Before We Die”) and Michael Hjorth (“Sebastian Bergman”) and centering on a ruthless and corrupt police officer. At Mipcom, Viaplay will be showing “The Lawyer,” a drama about a young defense attorney whose world unravels when he learns the truth about his parents’ deaths. Both “Alex” and “The Lawyer” are produced by SF Studios, one of Scandinavia’s biggest film groups, which has increased its TV business in recent years.
Viaplay also teamed with SVT for the first time on “Our Time Is Now,” a WWII-set multi-generation drama about a family that runs a successful restaurant.
Tim King, the exec VP of production at SF Studios, says Netflix is still the most popular streamer in the Nordics, following by Viaplay and HBO. “Viaplay has been growing quite fast since it started doing originals. It is really pushing for edgier content that can differentiate it from competitors,” he says. “Some producers in Scandinavia have stopped doing film because they don’t see the economics as lucrative as in TV.”
Yet, the SF Studios exec argues that Scandinavian broadcasters that used to finance shows almost entirely are now contributing to 50% or 60% of budgets, leading international partners and streaming services to play bigger role in financing local content.
The latest development in Scandinavian drama is the flourishing of series and films mixing Nordic and American elements, such as “Swedish Dicks” and even the film “Borg/McEnroe.”