NORDIC creativity has never been cooler
From chilling crime series — the ‘Nordic Noir’ phenomena of Millennium, The Killing and Wallander — to fun, quirky, thoughtful formats, such as The Blind Chef, Warzone Cooking, My Life’s Greatest Gift, The Wall, Blobo, Shop Amok, Comedy Combat and Babes on the Bus, there’s no question that the Nordic brand is currently one of the hottest in television.
So what’s going on up North? And why are so many of these good ideas coming out of the independent sector? Morten Aass, CEO of the Nordic independent production alliance NICE Group, believes the “Scandi creative spring” is a confluence of several factors, from market dynamics to picky, well-educated audiences to what he dubs the “Scandi production-hub model”, which encourages the development of local ideas — ideally those that are brave, original and imaginative enough to drive schedules.
“Real commercial TV in the Nordic territories is only about 15 years old and the local markets have developed very fast,” Aass explains. “A substantial increase in programme budgets for the main broadcasters and a booming number of niche channels has doubled the volume of content needed, which has in turn justified a significant investment in creative talent.”
In this competitive environment, foreign content, however glossy and expensive, is not enough to attract and grow an audience. “For our local channels, success is clearly connected to quality local productions,” Aass says.
With close to 70% of his group’s output developed from home-grown Nordic ideas, Aass is not complaining. However, he concedes that going local is expensive unless managed properly. Enter NICE’s pan-Scandi production-hub model: “We cut costs and increase efficiency by limiting production to one or two units per country. We then develop creative hubs around these centres, offering all the support services necessary.”
This clustering of expertise and resources not only makes sense financially, but it also offers small producers the sort of creative freedom they would struggle to find within a corporate structure. As Aass says: “A lot of production companies are tired of having their creativity stifled by group politics. In our model, producers have creative autonomy — but without the hefty price tag that usually accompanies independence.”
Jan Salling, chief operating officer and sales director of export coalition Nordic World, welcomes his region’s new-found reputation as a creative hotspot, but says the cognescenti have long known that the Scandis produce clever, watchable formats. “That’s why the super-indies — the Zodiaks, Shines, Banijays, Eyeworkses, FremantleMedias and Endemols — have been fishing in our creative pool for years,” he points out. “What’s more, because of our small territories and historically limited budgets, we’re used to making high quality content on a shoestring. It’s just that every now and then, the world notices.”
One such show is Babes on the Bus, produced by NICE’s Monster Entertainment, optioned at MIPCOM 2011 by Endemol for global roll-out and already in production in Germany, where it is to air on VOX later this year. “It’s the first Norwegian format to have created a real buzz on the international market,” Salling says. “And with its fresh and fun reinterpretation of the solid bankers of dating and reality, it’s a prime example of Nordic independent creativity.”
This indie success story leads Salling to his final point: “In the end, it’s all about getting things sold, produced and on television,” he says. “And that’s still extraordinarily hard for independent producers coming up with original, untested ideas, who find themselves competing against the super-indies’ huge catalogues of tried-and-tested content. The fact is that the super-indies still produce around 85% of all the local production — which means 85% of our programming is effectively under foreign control and ownership.”
Salling’s mission is to see this 85:15 split in the super-indies favour reduced to 70:30 within the next three years. “It’s do-able,” he maintains, “but it means our broadcasters will have to be braver and take more chances. But I keep telling them this isn’t charity work. If we help our indies to help themselves, it’ll help everybody involved in the Nordic content ecosystem.”