After a first overview, this second article ahead of MIPTV’s Focus on the Nordics takes a thorough look at two areas where nothern TV territories excel: formats and documentaries.
The Nordic format market is a bustling one. Drawing on very tight audience connections, on impeccable taste, on extreme circumstances and on a keen connection to the rest of the world, formats from the territory have found their way to nearly every other country that watches television. And the creators show no signs of letting up. Here are some key persons in the Nordic format market, with some good points for anyone about to cast their eyes northwards.
Ole Hedemann, head of format development, creative officer, NRK
At NRK we’re developing around 150 projects every year, across all platforms. We’re developing for the Norwegian audience, never for the international market – because we know that the only way to achieve international success is to create a national hit first. Furthermore, we always base our development work on a thorough analysis of the audience’s need for our idea.
I believe we in the Nordics are more prepared to take risks and try new things. For us at NRK this is perhaps not so strange; as a public service broadcaster we can relatively easy predict our revenue and can therefore allow ourselves to take more chances than others. The fact that our audience is highly connected and technically advanced also helps. Especially in factual entertainment we’re seeing brave formats such as Married at First Sight and Undressed from DR, SVT’s Nursing Home Makeover and our own Teenage Boss.
I believe the Nordics will give rise to new formats based on new forms of storytelling, where traditional TV scheduling is not the driving force behind format development. Anyone who can find a way to do that successfully will be in business for a long while.
At MIPTV we’re launching our format When the orchestra came to town, together with our distributor DRG. It’s a fantastic feel-good project (watch the video below), that was a storming prime time success on NRK1 late autumn 2014. I’ve never seen a more excited Twitter audience! Another Nordic format to keep an eye on is the fantastic reality series Anno from Strix. And I’m personally very impressed by how DR, and DR3 in particular, manages to foster huge public debates around their social experiment-formats!
Pete Paavolainen, head of development, Yellow TV
The Finnish and Nordic format markets are bursting with creativity. Despite that, growth hasn’t been as prevalent as in, for instance, Israel. It’s possible that the marketing strategies of the super-indies play a part; creative Nordic work isn’t always displayed as such to the international market.
It’s great being a format developer in Finland, as long as the broadcasters are willing to take some risks with their prime time slots. And right now they’re willing! As a market, however, Finland is a bit tricky. Not even the biggest entertainment shows have a budget as big as the show. The end result thereby doesn’t always look big enough for buyers from the big territories, however good the original idea was.
We’re bringing three new formats to MIPTV this year. One is the celebrity pop-up cooking show Restaurant X, while the other is the scripted format Nurses, a big hit in Finland. The most interesting Nordic format right now is, in my opinion, Zodiak’s Dropped.
Cathrine Wiernik, programming director, TV4
We have a strong tradition of exporting formats, beginning with our pioneering the reality genre back in the 90s. Successes like Expedition Robinson meant that the Nordics were thrown into the limelight and international players started looking towards the northern territories for new, exciting formats.
One of our strengths is that we’ve always been at the forefront, technically and content-wise. We’re a small market internationally, but we’ve always been open to trying out new ideas and testing boundaries. We also boast an impressive creative competence, leading to most major international players acquiring subsidiaries here.
Right now we are seeing a result of us not having been able to find new, exciting big shows internationally. Idol, Farmers wants a Wife, Dancing with Stars… they’re cornerstones of any broadcaster’s schedule, but they’re not exactly new formats anymore. So we went into development together with production companies, to come up with big, exciting prime time shows. One example is Dropped, created with Zodiak. Trash or Treasure is another, and the way a small format was taken and developed into the massive success that is Så Mycket Bättre is astounding. Genuine shows, featuring real people and real emotions in non-contrived situations – that’s what our successful shows have in common.
The documentary scene in the Nordics has always been a thriving one, drawing on long-standing traditions of storytelling and a unique outlook on the world of today. Ranging from the outlandish to the sublime, documentaries from the North offer a one-of-a-kind experience to the viewer. But the makers of the documentaries are also looking towards the future, exploring new ways of telling stories and interacting with the audience, such as the hit documentary series Docventures (see below).
Risto Kuulasmaa, head of TV and online media, Yle Finland
With Docventures we put a strong emphasis on the question “Why?” Our tagline was: “What Should You Know About the World?” Our mission was to broaden our audience’s mind and push people to take part in a meaningful mission. And it worked: we managed to make the millennials watch documentaries and we’ve kept receiving feedback from our community members describing real changes in their thinking and action.
Docventures’ TV slot doubled Yle’s audience in the under 45 year-old segment and is currently the most interesting TV programme for 15-29 year old Finnish people. The converged media mission of Docventures is to create engagement offline and online through an event television experience. All communication channels are open for dialogue: social media, second screen, shout boxes and live events. We even had a fax machine in the studio. The community has self-organised weekly mass gatherings where the documentary and the live after show is watched together. We’ve rewarded the community by giving airtime for these public meetings and showing audience’s tweets and messages in TV. We had a strong emphasis in the Facebook engagement. During the second season we managed to keep our weekly Facebook reach over 500,000 throughout the whole 8 week season (Finland’s population is 5.5 million inhabitants).
In general, the Nordic documentary scene is fortunate in the sense that the public funding system has created a steady base. Yle is currently experimenting with new web-only concepts, untraditional publishing and crowd sourcing methods. I’ve seen exciting new cross-genre concepts where filmmakers are mixing documentary with roleplaying and gamification.
On a global scale we’re already experiencing the dusk of young smart talents; social media-savvy creators receiving their funding from Kickstarter and publishing their documentaries online by themselves or selling their films directly to Netflix and other online players. To keep up with the pace, traditional broadcasters and distributors have to re-invent themselves in order to stay relevant and find new ways to offer services and funding to create added value for the new generation.
Regarding the documentary scene in Nordics, I’m a big fan of Danish filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer, whose work creates real change. Looking at Finland, I strongly recommend Amir Escandari’s Pixadores (2014) and Jukka Kärkkäinen’s The Punk Syndrome (2014). The latter one is a heartfelt story about a disabled punk rocker’s band. The band has now become the official representative of Finland at the Eurovision Song Contest. There’s a rumor of sequel in the making witnessing the band winning and bringing the Eurovision title back to Finland.
Simon Staffans is a formats developer for MediaCity Finland, and a frequent contributor to MIPBlog. Read all of his posts here.
Top photo: Anno, © NRK