Exec looking to prove she's a survivor

Exec looking to prove she's a survivor

STOCKHOLM -- The Swedish TV community was stunned when Anna Carrfors Brakenhielm stepped down last year as CEO of Strix, the region's leading television production company.

During her nine years in charge, Brakenhielm had become synonymous with the company that a decade ago was the first to buy and produce the "Survivor" format -- foreshadowing the global reality TV trend.

"I needed a new challenge," says Brakenhielm, who was contractually bound not to work in television for a year after quitting.

That period elapsed, and Brakenhielm resurfaced in late March. Her new job: CEO of start-up Talpa Scandinavia, a subsidiary of Talpa Media, the Dutch television and multimedia company founded by "Big Brother" creator and billionaire John de Mol.

Brakenhielm describes her current position as a happy coincidence. Last September she was due to sign a contract for a different international job. "I called John de Mol to ask for advice and he asked me if I wanted to work for him instead," she says.

In Europe Brakenhielm is best known for her 1996 decision to take a chance on the then unknown TV format Survivor.

"It took me about 30 seconds to make up my mind," says Brakenhielm, who bought Nordic rights to the "Survivor" format from Planet 24 at the MIPTV market in 1996.

"'Survivor' had three elements that appealed to me," she recalls. "It had the tribal council, it had an element of documentary -- which we call reality today -- and it had competition similar to that of a game show. I liked the plotting and knew it was going to be controversial," she says.

After a wave of initial controversy, the show, retitled "Expedition Robinson," quickly became Sweden's favorite pastime -- at one point drawing half the population to the TV screens.

Brakenhielm effectively leveraged the success of "Robinson" to transform Strix into an international player and a reliable cash cow for its parent company, the listed media group MTG. Since 1996, Strix has produced "Survivor" in more than a dozen countries and sold its own TV formats, such as "The Bar" and "The Farm," in over 70 countries.

One of the goals Brakenhielm didn't achieve during her time at Strix was a hit in the U.S. market -- despite several years of agent representation in Hollywood. Time will tell if she can earn those bragging rights at Talpa.

According to Brakenhielm, her main objective there is to develop internationally viable formats for television and new media. So far, she has raised eyebrows mainly by poaching a handful of employees from her former employer, notably head of sales Jonas Linnander-Manfred.

Within a few months, Talpa Scandinavia aims to have 10-12 employees and a network of freelancers. Brakenhielm hopes to present the first new TV formats this fall, when the industry can judge if she still has the survival instinct.