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Conference Report: The Future of TV Drama

The future of television – and particularly of TV drama – was widely on the Danish industry agenda in June with the Copenhagen Future TV Conference and an international seminar on producing, selling, programming and remaking TV series. Eva Novrup Redvall reports.

How do you best ‘work the windows’ in a changing television landscape? Are we seeing a move from Nordic Noir towards a more environmentally focused ’Nordic Green’ kind of television drama? And is traditional broadcast TV a bit like the fax machine that was amazing when it created the possibility of transferring text on paper from one place to another, but has since then been made obsolete by new inventions?

These were some of the questions being discussed by the Danish television industry at two industry events this June on the future of the television medium and, more specifically, the state of affairs within the world of television drama.

The Copenhagen Future TV Conference

The 2015 edition of the Copenhagen Future TV Conference focused on the traditional world of television undergoing dramatic transformations that call for new business models. After a presentation on the current audience patterns by the market research company Wilke, the founder of nScreenMedia, Colin Dixon, asked whether we will even be talking about TV as ‘TV’ in the future? His talk set the scene for a day of industry discussions where most people seemed to agree that TV isn’t dying, but it is changing remarkably, and the industry needs to address these changes as fast as possible to keep up.

TV Series Now seminar

Petri Kemppinen speaking at the TV Series Now seminar

The amazing fax machine …

This was vividly illustrated in the keynote by Joris Evers, Vice President and Head of Communications for Europe at Netflix. Netflix has been a major disrupter in the Nordic television industry since the launch of the on-demand streaming video provider in Denmark in October 2012. Evers gave a speed-talking introduction to the future plans of Netflix in terms of making the change from distributor of other people’s content to a destination for exclusive programming. The ambition basically is to do more and do it in more places. In Denmark, this has led to Netflix co-producing the third season of the TV 2 series Rita, where the basic agreement is that the Danish TV station gets its own window and then Netflix has the series everywhere else.

While most people during the day preferred to speak of changes rather than the death of TV, Evers argued that internet TV is replacing linear TV and compared traditional broadcast TV with the fax machine; it was amazing when it came with the possibility of putting in a paper and having it come out somewhere else – but now we have emails. He also argued that children today don’t have a sense of when or where a programme is on. Timeslots and channels are not elements that rule their world.

No flow for the young?

From a public service broadcaster perspective, Michael Arreboe from the Danish Broadcasting Corporation agreed that there are definitely changes in the audience patterns among children and teenagers. He presented the online strategy of dr.dk, the Danish equivalent of the BBC iPlayer, where television drama is among the most popular content. New experiments with for instance stacking has shown that there is an interest in watching certain kinds of series online. As an example, when all episodes of the first season of the series Broke (Bankerot) was made available online before the premiere of the second season, this led to 26% of the audience watching the second series online.

However, while DR is trying to experiment with new approaches in terms of catch-up content, the main issue on the DR agenda is currently how to stay connected with the younger audience members. In the first quarter of 2015, DR has experienced a drop of nearly 40% among 7-12 year-old for their flow TV programmes on the youth channel DR Ultra. Danish tweens spend the most time on mobile units, and in terms of the future of television DR is thus very focused on trying to think in new ways of reaching them to ensure that there will be a public service television dialogue with the younger generation in the years to come. The commercial players are also worried about the changes in audience preferences among the younger demographics, since the most recent statistics point to a number of younger adults becoming cable cutters or cable shavers.

Consumers with ‘TV stress’

According to numbers from the market research company Wilke, 7% of the population chose to downsize their TV package in 2014 and 40% of their respondents are considering shaving their current package. However, Danes still watch 2 hours and 53 minutes of broadcast TV a day, and according to Wilke it will take some years before streaming overtakes linear TV. In their predictions for the Copenhagen Future TV conference this will happen in 2019.

Today, 68% of the Danish population uses a streaming service. Dr.dk is the most popular, being used by 58% of the population. You Tube comes second with 56%, Netflix is third with 35%, Viaplay takes 26% and HBO Nordic is number 5 with 14%. There are many different options between linear and online TV, and according to Wilke’s report this has led to a number of Danes experiencing what they described as ‘TV-stress’.

TV Series Now

While 75% of the Danish TV consumption in 2015 is still taking place on traditional broadcast TV, 25% is now streaming which is a remarkable change in just a few years. This development was also addressed at the international television drama seminar TV Series Now – Production, sales, programming and the fine art of negotiating remake rights, co-organized by The Danish Film Institute and Creative Europe Denmark. TV series is the most popular content online, but the question is how to best produce and programme new series in a changing media landscape.

European television drama

Professor Ib Bondebjerg from MeCETES opened the discussions of the day with an analysis of the current performance of European and Scandinavian TV series. Based on data covering 57 TV channels in 11 European countries, his presentation showed that on average the European share of drama is on the rise and the American share is in decline, while national drama is still very popular and dominant, especially in primetime. However, there are big differences between different European countries and channels.

The following session, with producer Caroline Benjo from Haut et Court (Les Revenants/The Returned) and Arnaud Figaret from Capa Drama (Braquo and Versailles) offered insights into the French TV production landscape with the ambition of facilitating future collaborations between France and Denmark. From a Danish perspective it was interesting to hear the rather harsh criticism of the public service drama production in an industry where Arte and Canal Plus are normally the producers of content that can travel. However, there was also a sense of change and of new players moving into drama production, such as the channel M6.

Working the Windows

Focusing on TV sales and distribution, Jan De Clerq from Lumière Distribution explained how his company has been ‘working the windows’ in terms of positioning and selling Scandinavian crime series in the Benelux. As an example, he talked about how Lumière in 2006 bought the rights for the Swedish series Wallander but could not get any broadcasters interested in showing it. Instead, Lumière decided to release the series on DVD and established a collaboration with two newspapers to sell it through their webshop. This turned out to be a successful strategy that was later repeated with the Danish series Forbrydelsen/The Killing; when broadcasters were not interested in the series, it was launched on DVD and ended up selling 150.000 copies. Jan De Clerq argued that the newspaper advertising has been helpful in creating an awareness around the series for later windows, but now the broadcasters are more interested in buying the series from the outset. This interest is partly related to the current hype around Nordic series.

Local is global

Helene Aurø from DR International sales addressed this hype, saying that crime pays; the Nordic crime series sell very well, but other content, such as Broke or the family series Arvingerne/The Legacy, is now also selling to other countries – it just takes a little longer. Aurø argued in favour of creating very local stories, and established what seemed to become a mantra for the rest of the day based on a quote from Head of DR Drama Piv Bernth: that the local is global when it comes to television drama. Carole Scotta from Haut et Court agreed, drawing on Les Revenants as an example of a series that has found more success in its original French version than in its remake form.

Remake with the right partners

The challenges of making successful remakes was addressed later in the day when producer Lars Blomgren from Filmlance talked about his experience with the remakes of Bron/The Bridge and other productions. He insisted that European producers should be very aware that the market is changing. The US drama no longer works as primetime content, and Europeans need to understand that they have a quality product of value when they are approached by US players for remake rights.

Blomgren outlined how the past years have seen a tremendous growth in the number of drama buyers, but he warned that there is a lot of ‘stupid money’ out there. He argued that the most important aspect of co-producing is thus to pick the right partner; you need a partner with a good track record and you need a good fit with a broadcaster. Moreover, the first decisions are the key decisions, because as soon as you have put your foot down, you can’t suddenly go in another direction.

Blomgren couldn’t reveal any numbers for his remake deals, but he was pleased to talk about audience numbers. Most recently, the Swedish series Äkta Människor/Real Humans (which is being remade in the UK by Kudos) started airing on Channel 4 with 4.4 million viewers, according to Blomgren the highest rating ever on Channel 4.

TV-slots and formats

The end of the day had representatives from the Scandinavian public service broadcasters DR, NRK and SVT outlining their approaches to time slots and formats together with Tasja Abel from ZDF Enterprises. Head of Drama Piv Bernth explained how she is trying to keep what she described as ‘the DR DNA’ close, while also moving into half hour time slots with comedy series, such as Ditte & Louise, and more co-production. She argued that public service broadcasters attract other kinds of stories than the commercial players and exemplified by briefly introducing screenwriter Adam Price’s forthcoming (co-produced) series which – following the political power plays in Borgen – deals with religion and faith.

Ivar Køhn from NRK explained how NRK wants more drama and has decided to merge the in-house drama department and the department for co-production to create a joint drama department from October. He argued that in-house production is important to keep continuity and how NRK is trying to bring in talents to work with them within the NRK framework. He described the NRK strategy as trying to merge the ways of doing things in Denmark and Sweden when trying to make brave and original mainstream content. As he stated, the people who are now in the 70s were the hippies. They might just be open to a different kind of fare than what their age might indicate.

Nordic Green

Petri Kemppinen from The Nordic Film and TV Fund rounded up the day by pointing to what he sees as the current and future trends in Nordic television drama. The NFTF provides top financing, supporting around 10 to 14 projects a year. Around one third of the fiction support budget is spent on television drama.

In the forthcoming productions, Kemppinen saw the environment as a recurrent theme. Several stories revolve around issues of energy sources in different ways, for instance in the DR financial thriller Bedraget/Follow the Money with a death related to a windmill factory as the inciting incident. Another example is the Norwegian series Occupied, where Russia invades Norway when a newly elected environmental friendly government has decided to stop the oil and gas production in the North Sea.

Kemppinen described this as a new kind of Nordic Green rather than the current crime wave of Nordic Noir. It will be interesting to see whether that term catches on in a wider context when these series start circulating in the near future. As of now, the preferred Nordic television series colour of international audiences still seems to be Noir.

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