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C21 DIGITAL SCREENINGS

Viaplay Group

Programming Profile

Viaplay mixes local and global in new content slate

13-10-2022

Filippa Wallestam of international streamer Viaplay outlines her commissioning strategy and talks through highlights of the slate of titles being showcased by new division Viaplay Content Distribution via C21’s Digital Screenings this week.

 

If Filippa Wallestam ever tires of her job as exec VP and chief content officer at Viaplay Group-owned streaming platform Viaplay, she would probably make an excellent air traffic controller.

 

With dozens of original scripted and non-scripted ideas landing on her desk every month, her job isn’t just about identifying and greenlighting great shows – but also deciding whether they should be produced for local or multinational markets.

 

Now that Viaplay is ramping up its activities in the US, the UK and global distribution, there is also a decision to be made about language. Should a show be made in a Nordic language, English or a mixture of the two? Not to be forgotten, either, is that the streamer is also available in the Baltics, Netherlands and Poland – each of which is aimed to be serviced with a mix of Nordic-originated shows and local content. Viaplay in Estonia, for example, has just launched its first local-language original, a whodunnit-style crime series called Who Shot Otto Mueller?.

 

Gabourie
Filippa Wallestam,
Viaplay

According to Wallestam: “The key is to consider projects on a case-by-case basis. If an idea looks like it is going to be a big-budget show – for example, if it is based on high-profile IP – then it is going to have to work internationally. But at the same time, we get a lot of great ideas that are more local in tone, and these can operate within tighter budgetary parameters.”

 

An example of a big-budget show would be The Dreamer, a new 6×50’ scripted series that explores the story of Out of Africa author Karen Blixen. Told in a mix of Danish and English, it is a “fantastic period drama starring Connie Nielsen [Gladiator], for whom this is a passion project,” says Wallestam. “In our story, we see Blixen at her lowest point – sick, heartbroken and penniless. We then follow her challenging path to success.”

 

Who Shot Otto Mueller?
Who Shot Otto Mueller?

Often when seeking to hit the international market with bigger-budget shows, Viaplay will favour a multi-lingual approach. “It worked well for us with Norwegian crime drama Wisting, where the introduction of an FBI agent gave a credible reason for using English,” she says. This show is distributed by Banijay Rights, which sold it to the BBC in the UK.

 

By contrast, shows initially targeted at local markets include new Norwegian title Below. Created and written by rising star Tina Rygh, this 6×25’ comedy-drama focuses on a young woman paralysed from the waist down in a traffic incident. Traumatised by the death of her friend Karl in the same collision, she has to move in with her estranged sister. Wallestam says: “I’ve never seen anything like it. It is a super-sad story but told in a comedic way. The handicraft to get that right is extremely impressive, and the show raises questions for all of us.”

 

Below will be showcased at Mipcom, which may seem counter-intuitive given its Norwegian focus, but Wallestam says it is not uncommon for Viaplay’s local productions to break out internationally. In fact, the show is already garnering attention far beyond Norway, with a nomination for Best European Series at the recent Festival de la Fiction de la Rochelle.

 

The Dreamer - Becoming Karen Blixen
The Dreamer – Becoming Karen Blixen

“All our local Originals are created with their specific market in mind. That, for example, is the clear strategy in the Netherlands and Poland. But often local shows tell universal truths that appeal to international audiences.”

 

Viaplay’s stated target is to premiere at least 70 original productions in 2022. However, Wallestam is not too prescriptive about the exact number of series produced a year, or how they are structured. “We are flexible. We talk to producers about what we are looking for, but our greenlight strategy also follows the market to some extent. If Norway is especially strong at one point we will back more shows there, but, equally, Denmark could suddenly be hot.”

 

That said, she stresses that her job is to find shows that fit Viaplay’s broader ambitions as a streamer. Right now, for instance, the company is operating with two models. One is a fully fledged offering that combines live sports, Viaplay Originals and acquisitions (e.g. from Hollywood). This is the approach in the Nordics, Baltics, Poland and the Netherlands – and it will also be adopted in the UK. The other model is more of a niche Nordic-led offering, currently available in the US but soon to be extended into German-speaking territories and Canada.

 

Below
Below

The enhanced offering has taken Wallestam in two new directions. The first, now up and running, is movies, with the English-language film Hilma, about pioneering Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, headlining the current slate. “This could have been a local story,” says Wallestam, “but director Lasse Hallström and ourselves both felt it needed to be more ambitious.”

 

In terms of the overall shift to movies, she says: “It makes sense because we want to offer our customers a broad streaming service. We have movie output deals with the likes of Sony, but original movies complement our investment in series very well.” Following Hilma, there will be another English-language period movie with a Nordic theme entitled Stockholm Bloodbath.

 

Alongside investment in movies, Wallestam is gearing up to increase spending on English-language series content. “We are launching in the UK later this year, so we are talking to British producers about Viaplay Originals. More news on that will be coming very soon.”

 

Hilma
Hilma

While Wallestam is juggling multiple budget levels, genres and services, one area firmly part of the company’s DNA is crime stories. “Nordic noir is a key part of our offering, but we are always innovating to find different ways to tell these stories.”

 

One example of this is Fenris, filmed against the spectacular landscape of northern Norway, near the Swedish border. “It’s about the disappearance of a boy, believed to have been killed by wolves. But when a biologist’s father also goes missing, she uses her instincts to uncover a dark truth,” says Wallestam.

 

While scripted has been a big priority for Viaplay, Wallestam adds that that company still sees distinctive factual content as a core part of its offer. Hot new titles include Haaland – The Big Decision, which documents Erling Haaland’s high-profile move to Manchester City FC. “Sports documentaries make a lot of sense for us because of our strength in sports rights,” says Wallestam. “We have also recently signed a deal with Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen.”

 

Fenris
Fenris

At a local level, Wallestam also highlights Human to Human (10×15’), a Polish documentary series that tells the story of the Ukraine War from the perspective of Ukrainian refugees and the Polish citizens, volunteers and activists who have welcomed them.

 

Viaplay Originals are primarily intended for the company’s own streaming services, expected to be in 16 territories by late 2023. Outside this ecosystem there is scope for third-party distribution, with most titles marketed by new in-house division Viaplay Content Distribution.

 

“We tend to package up our shows and sell them as a kind of ‘mini-Viaplay,’” says Wallestam. By doing so, buyers secure premium Nordic content, while Viaplay also lays the foundation for further expansion.