When the Nordic Entertainment Group, one of Scandinavia’s largest media groups, announced last month during the Goteborg Film Festival that it was pulling out of non-scripted content to focus on scripted drama, and film production and distribution, it underscored two market trends in the Nordics: Subscription-based services, whether local or global, are driving the region’s booming drama business, and going forward, the investment into content will be more evenly split between Scandinavia series and movies.
Since Scandinavia is one of the first overseas markets where Netflix and HBO Nordic launched as early as 2012, local streaming services such as Viaplay, CMore and Elisa Viihde reacted fast and stepped up their investment in drama in order to compete. It paid off: Today, unlike in other European regions where local SVOD services have either shut down or struggled, the Nordics are home to several powerful local streaming services that are coexisting alongside Netflix and HBO Nordic. Amazon Prime is still lagging behind in the region but has made it a priority to gain more ground.
With the flurry of broadcasters, such as SVT, DR, NRK, YLE and TV2, also active in the field, there is a flood of drama series being produced in Scandinavia, but the market isn’t nearing saturation. Indeed, original TV series and films remain a significant profit driver, on top of being good for branding. For instance, over at NENT Studios, scripted production and distribution operations make up approximately 45% of its total sales, according to the company.
Viaplay, which already ranks as the biggest commissioner of new TV shows in the region, according to Ampers Analysis, plans to premiere more than 30 original productions in 2020 and has the ambition to premiere a minimum of 40 original productions per year starting in 2021.
Along with increasing the production volumes of series in the region, streaming services have contributed to allowing local producers and filmmakers to tell different stories, experiment with new genres, and venture into highly ambitious projects, which could not be financed by a broadcaster alone.
“It’s a great time for storytelling,” says Johannes Jensen, Yellow Bird Sweden’s CEO. “Local broadcasters are still very much into crime but streaming services are interested in a broader range of niche shows and more genre. Even crime shows now don’t look like the Nordic noir series of the ’90s,” says Jensen, whose company is behind the staple Nordic noir series “Wallander” and Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy.
“Nordic noir is slightly outdated — shows today can’t be black and white, they need to have more colors,” says the executive, who notes a rising interest in
socially- onscious series such as “Thin Ice,” an eight-part suspense thriller dealing with the Arctic climate crisis, which Yellow Bird is producing for the Swedish broadcaster TV4 and its SVOD service CMore.
Another timely show ordered by CMore and TV4 is “The Night Riders” (working title), a drama series based on the real story of a respected equestrian expert who sexually abused young women and children in the 1990s and 2000s. The show is being produced by Oscar-nominated Annica Bellander Rune at the Banijay-owned company Jarowskij.
Josefine Tengblad, the head of drama for TV4 and CMore, says “The Night Riders” illustrates the type of show that the streamer is going for. “It’s a true story with a contemporary appeal, and it’s a local story, grounded in Sweden,” says Tengblad, who adds that the steep competition within the region has forced the company to come on board projects earlier than ever. “The Night Riders,” for instance, was picked up at script stage.
Viaplay is also venturing into different kinds of shows at it aims to reach broader audiences, says Filippa Wallestam, NENT Group CCO. She says the smashing success of “Love Me,” a heart-warming comedy series centering on a family in Stockholm (recently optioned by ABC for an English-language pilot episode produced by Elizabeth Banks) marked a turning point for Viaplay. The streamer recently reteamed with the show creator and co-star Josephine Bornebusch on the Swedish romantic drama “Harmonica,” about a country music duo in the 90s. The show is being produced by Warner Bros. International Television.
Finland’s Elisa Viihde, meanwhile, is behind some of the region’s most ambitious shows, notably “Arctic Circle,” a crime thriller set in Lapland, “All the Sins” and “Shadow Lines.” It recently ordered “Bad Apples,” a 1970-set psychological series unfolding at a fictional mental asylum for women.
Streaming services across the board are becoming more eclectic, and Tim King, the executive VP of production at SF Studios, says that’s even more true for Netflix and HBO Nordic, for which the fastest growth in subscribers is the 45-60 demo group.
Netflix, which has traditionally been skewing toward millennials everywhere including the Nordics, is “now looking for a broader palette of content to meet the needs of these newer subscribers,” says King.
Netflix — which previously ordered the originals “The Rain,” a Danish post-apocalyptic series, and “Quicksand,” a Swedish crime series set in the aftermath of a school shooting — recently ordered the Norwegian coming-of-age drama “Ragnarok,” as well as “Love & Anarchy,” a romantic dramedy created by filmmaker by Lisa Langseth and produced by SF Studios-owned banner FLX (which also produced “Quicksand”). “Love & Anarchy” will star Ida Engvoll (“A Man Called Ove”) as a career-driven consultant and married mother of two whose life is turned upside down when she falls for a much younger man.
Netflix has also ordered from Yellow Bird an untitled series about the creation of Spotify to be directed by Per-Olav Sorensen (“Quicksand”).
HBO Nordic, meanwhile, stepped into Scandinavian original series with Lukas Moodysson’s Swedish comedy series “Gosta” and is now behind Peter Gronlund’s “Beartown,” the Norwegian sci-fi satire “Beforeigners,” and “Wilderness,” the Norwegian dramedy series from Icelandic director Dagur Kári.
But streaming services, whether local or international, are also increasingly interested in films. The Nostradamus Report, which was presented during Goteborg festival, predicted a revival in arthouse movies within the next five years and said streaming services have actually contributed to enriching the feature film landscape.
“Should demand for local-language features grow in the same way as TV, I think it will represent a revolution for the film industry, and we’ll see growth in a very different sort of production, which hopefully will be great for the public,” says King.
SF Studios is currently producing for Netflix the action thriller “Red Dot” about a couple in their late 20s who go on a hiking trip in Northern Sweden to rekindle their relationship but their journey turns into a nightmare.
Netflix also recently ordered “Cadaver,” a horror movie produced by Oslo-based Motion Blur Films, which is set in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster and revolves around a family.
The question is, can the Nordic industry sustain this skyrocketing production volume of series and films? “Such demand … would create attendant challenges for how public support works, and how an industry that is already stretched for creatives, production teams and producing talent operates,” says King.