- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
Scandinavian storytelling is looking to grow its North American fanbase further as streamer Viaplay launched in the U.S. on Wednesday and is next setting its eyes on Canada.
The streaming service ended 2022 with more than 7.3 million subscribers, with 37 percent, or nearly 2.7 million, of them being outside the Nordics, namely the Baltic countries, the U.K., Poland and the Netherlands. Now, Viaplay has debuted in the U.S. and will further expand to Canada on March 7.
Overseeing the latest international expansion is Vanda Rapti, Viaplay Group Chief Commercial Officer, North America & Viaplay Select. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she explained the appeal of Nordic Noir, why Viaplay has more than that to offer and how the service will fit into a competitive streaming landscape.
Viaplay is known as a big player in the genre of Nordic Noir. How appealing is that to people in North America and is that your main selling point?
The genre is very popular. We say “Nordic Noir is just the beginning,” because for us it is all about the Nordic storytelling. It is a way of filming, a way of telling the story – high quality, suspenseful, atmospheric, very intriguing, appealing, gritty and provocative.
Do you see much competition from other streamers in this genre?
Competition here is actually working to our advantage. In the U.S., AMC and Sundance have already offered this type of content, and Netflix has shown some of its Nordic originals, as well as Viaplay’s popular 2017 show Occupied. But obviously, we are the No. 1 in the genre, because we have a super-large while at the same time top-quality slate of Nordic content.
Our Viaplay series and films are not only Nordic or Nordic-language ones, but we are commissioning or co-producing other European originals that follow the Nordic storytelling that is quite appealing. We love to create stories with international appeal, often shot in the English language (e.g. Hilma, The Dreamer – Becoming Karen Blixen and Stockholm Bloodbath), which have an anchor in the Nordics. We are targeting audiences that have understand and appreciate European series and films, enjoy international content, love Nordic-origin Hollywood stars and that love interesting, unique stories. The target audience is definitely much larger han expats or those with a direct connection to the region: all those who want strong quality content.
Are there any target areas or demographics that this applies to in particular?
We have a targeted approach. Our core target audience is savvy people who like foreign films and series and choose and prioritize new culture experiences. There are also well-educated people who have work, but still prioritize downtime. We can target them through good, targeted digital marketing.
With regards to other audiences, because I believe in the strength of our content and I am convinced that we should go beyond those who are already conscious of their love of Nordic storytelling, we have initiatives to get a wider audience to try and enjoy our content. The most efficient way to approach audiences outside the core target group is through special partnerships, not only with carriers such as Roku and other platforms, but business-to-consumer partnerships. Here you can offer a special promotion and give opportunities to segments of people that would take the opportunity to explore a new service because they are presented with an offer, standalone or bundled with other products they are purchasing.
In Hollywood, producers and streamers often look for franchises and spin-offs. How much do you target such continuing programming and characters?
We do, too, and have many shows where we have commissioned a second or third season. We also look at top actors and actresses, but Nordic and international, who star in star in our series and films. Audiences that love their work on U.S. show, are likely to be interested in watching them in the shows on Viaplay.
In addition, when it comes to box sets we have a lot of series with volume of seasons, some of them commissioned by Nordic public broadcasters that have been very successful within their market and internationally.
How has your international expansion affected your original programming strategy and do you try to target new countries with new originals?
Even in our local content commissioned primarily for one market, we aim to have broader appeal, … so that, for example, a Norwegian show also would be a strong premiere for our audiences in the Netherlands and Poland. Furthermore, we are commissioning or co-producing English-language content, which possibly has a connection with the Nordics or our other core markets, but has an international cast. The show is in whole or part in English, and might be taking place in the U.S., U.K. or elsewhere. One example is the film Hilma, directed by Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules), a biopic of Swedish artist Hilma af Klint co-starring Lena Olin (Hunters, Alias). Another example is the Viaplay series Cell 8. It is a story that starts in the Nordics, but evolves mostly in the U.S. as the lead character had been on death row in the U.S. It is one of my favorites, a super-strong thriller, personal drama, and provocative as it touches on a number of U.S. matters. So, indeed we have international or U.S.-linked Viaplay shows with some anchor or connection to the Nordics.
In addition, we have commissioned our first Viaplay Series in the U.K., (Ian Rankin’s) ‘Rebus’, with distribution rights for the world.
From our English-language original slate, you have seen a lot of our shows in the U.S. on other networks. For example, Last Light with Matthew Fox is on Peacock, it was originally developed by us; Billy The Kid on Epix, The Holiday on (Charter’s) Spectrum, Kin and Litvinenko on AMC – a few examples of our international originals on which, if commissioned today, we may have kept the U.S. rights.
How often do you plan to launch new content on the service and how key is it to keep programming fresh?
We will follow the one-premiere-per-week promise. Personally, I don’t believe that one new show every week is what makes the difference for a niche service. Yes, we have enough premieres to have one every week. But but it is the strength of the offering and a good refresh rate that matters. On our direct-to-consumer platform, we will be lifting our key recommendations as we see fit. On partnering platforms, we are aiming for editorial recommendations pushed through the partners that would help the customers discover the content. Some top shows can play again and again on the top lists because they are still new for the vast majority of people. So, for a specialized and new service like Viaplay in the U.S., I wouldn’t preclude pushing a strong show, simply because it originally premiered some months ago. There are millions of people in the U.S. who have not seen it and when new subscribers come to the platform, we would give them the opportunity to the best shows. We should just try to maximize the value of the content throughout the year while having a healthy refresh rate and following the one- premiere-a-week promise.
Is there anything else about the Viaplay U.S. launch that you feel is important to highlight?
What we are doing in the U.S. is that we are maximizing three strengths of Viaplay Group. One is that we have a massive content pipeline with really strong productions we have invested in, predominantly for the growth of our broad markets in Europe. That gives us so much independence as we have so much control over so much good content that is, arguably already paid for.
The second part, which has helped us grow as a company, is our acquisition leverage. Both when we commission as well as when we acquire content, we buy rights for enough markets, which gives us fair leverage on favorable terms. Of course, if a global streamer, such as Netflix, comes on board with a strong wish to acquire and pay the value of global rights, it might not make sense for us to compete, but we have enough marketing leverage to allow us to use our scale cost-efficiently.
The third part is that our product and tech are state of the art. This is relevant both for our direct-to-consumer platform and for the technical integration ability with partners. This is a bit of a differentiating factor between us and the other niche players in the U.S., neither of which – international or domestic – has had product and tech or direct-to-consumer in their tradition and DNA.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day