“Brands can add to the show, not be ads in the show.”


At MIPTV in April, Lasse Nikkari was on a panel speaking about Branded Entertainment. What I found particularly interesting was that he is both, Head of Formats and Head of Branded Entertainment at Sanoma Media Finland, owner of commercial TV channel Nelonen. That means he not only creates original Branded Entertainment, but also acquires international formats and then attaches a brand to them. So, I wanted to know how this all works and what we can learn from his approach.

Lasse Nikkari – Head of Formats and Head of Branded Entertainment at Sanoma Media Finland


Content vs. Commercial

First and foremost, Lasse Nikkari is a “content guy”. He has worked on TV productions with a focus on Reality TV his whole career. From editing Survivor over developing his own shows to his role now at Finland’s leading multi-channel media company Sanoma Media, he knows the ins and outs of TV production.

“As Head of Formats, I’m the eyes and ears on the markets looking for the best suited formats to serve our long-term total TV strategy. And as Head of Branded Entertainment, I’m overlooking the branded entertainment business and executive produce all Branded Entertainment shows.”, explains Lasse. This means he is the connective person between the B2S sales teams and the commissioning team. Bringing content and commerce together.

On the content side, Lasse is part of Nelonen Media’s Commissioning Jury, where they evaluate every pitch and case as a business case and decide what gets commissioned. If they don’t see a business case a.k.a. an ROI, the format doesn’t get commissioned. At the same time, he is part of Nelonen Media’s TV Jury, where they deal with all TV related matters from sports rights to film distribution and streaming business to B2B/B2C business. This means his role makes the decision-making and Branded Entertainment process very lean without any silos.

“With the shows we commission, we aim to provide our advertisers with the finest media environment possible. To commission the appropriate number and type of shows, we operate by forecasting and constantly monitoring to ensure that we stay on plan, produce enough ratings, and reach any given time. Being adaptable with windowing is critical for us to achieve our marketing objectives.”, he explains further.


High-Value Branded Entertainment

Branded Entertainment is at best an addition to their programme slate and means also more commissions for production companies. That’s why Lasse also conducts workshops for producers to teach them about how Sanoma and Nelonen handle branded entertainment and even encourages them to be the first to contact the companies.

The content and brand fit are very important, but that’s not all to make a Branded Entertainment project successful. According to Lasse, the show needs to pass their value calculation. This usually means that the client needs to be wealthy enough and focused on brand building enough to invest into the joint Branded Entertainment venture. Investments required from a brand, include:

  • Investment into production (varies from case to case)
  • Investment into title credits (regulatory and are priced by media)
  • Investment into B2B advertising campaign


“Good Branded Entertainment cases have increased interest towards brand building and less towards promoting specific services and products. As the largest multimedia house and advertiser in Finland we want to respond to this demand – therefore Branded Entertainment is customer service. When a brand engages with us in a Branded Entertainment project, we get really close and personal with them due to bi-weekly production meetings etc – this enhances our overall client relationship.”, so Lasse Nikkari

In the best-case situation, the brand owner already likes the TV format and understands how it works. For example, Lasse formed a branded entertainment partnership with a Finnish insurance company for the Amazing Race. Setting up the collaboration was simple because the brand was already familiar with the show and how it works – how well it fits their marketing messages.

“In addition to the title credits throughout the episodes, we devised various creative ways to promote the brand in the show. The brand had their own episode with branded challenges, they had its logo printed on the competitors’ rucksacks, they produced a survival kit with plasters and other supplies for the competitors, which received natural exposure as the competition progressed, and we also created a scavenger hunt for the viewers in which they had to spot digitally placed logos in three episodes. The company’s brand tagline is Everything Will Be Alright. We even managed to include that in the host’s speech.”, explains Lasse.


Holy Trinity of Branded Entertainment

“When it comes to working with a brand, transparency is key and making sure the distributor and IP owner knows and approves our plans. We need to make sure we hit the sweet spot as below and try to make the brands add to the show, not being just an ad in the show”, so Lasse Nikkari.

The Holy Trinity of Branded Entertainment consists of: What audiences wants to see. What Brands want to say. And what Formats allow to do that. He adds that brands can bring not just their audiences, but also specialist knowledge regarding their industry, therefore making the show better. They shouldn’t be seen only as the commercial partner, but also as a content partner that can bring valuable insights to the content. Therefore, it’s also important to treat them as a production partner by having very transparent meetings before and during the production to make sure they are up to date about the filming and making sure you can tweak and create better exposure if needed.

The success metrics vary for the three partners involved. While ratings might be important for the channel Nelonen and the production company, the brand might be interested in a more qualitative than quantitative goal. That’s why Lasse always tries to incorporate a brand survey. This comes from understanding the why – why the brand wants to be involved in a big brand activation campaign, such as a Branded Entertainment TV project. Nowadays, you can pretty much measure everything. You just need to know the brand’s why, the drivers, and then what and how to measure that.

A game-changer for Lasse was winning a Finnish Emmy Award for the popular home renovation format Love it or List it (distributed by Beyond Distribution). This showed that an acquired format with a brand attached can reach such a high-quality standard to win a renowned TV industry award.

The format Love It or List It was created in collaboration with a bank, a real estate agency, and a furnishing store, all of which contributed to and improved the show. For example, Nordea Bank handled all of the mortgage calculations for each case, ensuring that the show was produced responsibly and that no one went too far into debt.

“We are now continuing our responsible approach to producing branded entertainment by co-producing Banijay’s blockbuster format Luxury Trap with another bank. The show itself is about getting out of debt and moving towards a brighter financial future.”, so Lasse.

A match made in TV formats heaven. So, what’s next for Branded Entertainment?


The Future of Branded Entertainment

According to Lasse, when it comes to the future of Branded Entertainment in brief is: “More and better. Less obvious. More about value – not just products and services.” He expands on that by saying the brand presence will, in relevant cases, become the starting point, not an afterthought, with producers starting to develop ideas for new shows around a brand, keen to take advantage of their built-in audience and existing ecosystems. “I want to bring more and bigger entertainment titles to our territory with brand partnerships that make sense for all of us. We already have Top Gear and the Amazing Race so the bar has been set quite high. We can still be better, though. I want to produce brand funded scripted shows. I have been close to commission one but have not succeeded yet.”

If you have a scripted show that could become the first brand-funded scripted series on Finland’s Nelonen, why not join us at MIPCOM in October and pitch Lasse your show. Register here.

About Author

Sandra Lehner is a TV Futurist and the MD of Suncatcher Social, based in Lisbon. She is a frequent contributor to MIPBlog, and speaks regularly at MIPCOM. Newsletter: https://tvfuturist.substack.com/ Website: https://suncatchersocial.com/ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandralehner/

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