NENT Group, the company that operates leading Scandi streaming service Viaplay, announced today that it is committing to finance and produce two English language features films per year as it ramps up its international expansion strategy.
The outfit is already ploughing a significant amount of money into its TV productions, which will reach an impressive 50 originals per year by 2022, and its commitment to film is designed to precede its launch in the U.S. at the end of this year. The titles will be all based on Nordic true stories, but will be shot in English and made with a wide range of cast and crew. The first will be Hilma, a biopic of the revolutionary Swedish artist and feminist pioneer Hilma af Klint, written and directed by Oscar nominee Lasse Hallström and starring Lena Olin.
Deadline caught up with NENT Group President and CEO Anders Jensen to discuss plans for the international rollout and original content drive, which is backed by a fresh fund raise of $500M.
DEADLINE: Tell us about this investment in two English films per year.
ANDERS JENSEN: We want to go north of €10M (100M Swedish Krona) per year across two film projects. This is a particular niche of Nordic stories for an international audience, made in English. By Nordic film standards it’s actually a pretty big budget. We can also up those budgets depending on what opportunities we see. And we are investing a lot more money into series and Nordic-language movies.
Our ambition is to air two English-language movies per year by 2022, in addition to five to 10 Nordic movies, and 50-60 series. This original content is really driving our expansion. We want to open up peoples’ eyes and ears to the Nordics, and make it more accessible by using English.
DEADLINE: Is the plan to eventually scale up to be a worldwide service like Netflix and co?
JENSEN: I wouldn’t stretch it so far to say we’re aiming for the same kind of spread as Netflix. We are trying to do it in a profitable way, we can take some losses now so that in five years we are in a strong position. There is a window of opportunity now, if you are differentiated enough and can deliver something that stands out in a competitive environment, then there is a window, but that will close over time as the markets become more penetrated. We are looking at 15-20 markets by the end of 2025. There will be an update in September this year. We’ve just raised $500M in fresh capital for the international expansion.
DEADLINE: When are you launching in the U.S.?
JENSEN: We’re launching in the U.S. around Christmas time. We’ve launched in three Baltic countries this spring, then we have Poland in August. There will be another five markets next year.
DEADLINE: And the English titles will support that rollout?
JENSEN: For sure. When we launch in countries like the U.S., and potentially the UK in the future, we know there is a good amount of interest for Nordic drama, ‘Nordic noir’, i.e. Nordic crime series. We’ll find that audience but we want to find a broader one that will probably in the future think language is less of a barrier, but for now still has a bit of hesitancy to watch something that is not in English. We want to create some curiosity around this peculiar little region of the world, which has had quite an impact in science, innovation, progression…
DEADLINE: And at the Oscars this year [where Danish pic Another Round won Best International Film]…
JENSEN: Exactly. Hollywood’s reaction is to do a remake in English [of Another Round], and I say, ‘Why? We’ll do it properly from the beginning’.
DEADLINE: These films will all be based on true stories too.
JENSEN: Yes. Instead of chasing the next new IP, we want to make it more authentic by basing all these films on true events. There is such an interesting spectrum of people from the Nordics who have travelled the world.
DEADLINE: These films will all go directly onto your platform, but is there any possibility of theatrical play?
JENSEN: Yes. We are aiming for a short theatrical window for the majority of them. The creators want to be able to win awards. But we are investing 100% of the budget so we get 100% of the control with the content.
DEADLINE: Do you have a theatrical partner?
JENSEN: That is open for now.
DEADLINE: Are you also doing English language series?
JENSEN: We are. Of the 40 we make this year, three or four will be in English.
DEADLINE: Can you give us an idea of your biggest successes to date?
JENSEN: We have a couple of shows that have really moved the needle for us. Funnily enough, they’re not Nordic Noir. A Swedish series called Love Me, a relationship drama which is now in its second season, was the talk of the town last year. Right now, we are airing a series in Norway called Porni, a relationship drama with more comedy, which has also gone through the roof. But we do think that as we go international the starting point will be the crime series.
DEADLINE: Would you consider remaking a show like Love Me in English for your U.S. launch?
JENSEN: We have considered that quite a lot but honestly I think about the remake of something like The Bridge – one of the most well-known Nordic noirs – it wasn’t very good and it didn’t do well in the U.S. The original did better. It’s better to make different stories in English from the beginning. We have just wrapped an English language crime series called The Box, it shot in Stockholm but it could have been done anywhere in the world. We had Anna Friel in the lead role, with a U.S.-based showrunner, that was a conscious decision.
DEADLINE: Even though you are pushing more into English-language content, do you think English-speaking audiences will soon watch more foreign-language content?
JENSEN: Yes, we have data supporting that. We know for example that two-thirds of Netflix’s subscribers have watched Nordic content with subtitles. What would happen if someone made really good Nordic content?