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BLACK NIGHTS 2021 Industry@Tallinn & Baltic Event

TV Beats explores the current state of local language content and how to internationalise it


- The four speakers discussed how to position features and series shot in local languages in the rapidly evolving market, at the Black Nights industry event

TV Beats explores the current state of local language content and how to internationalise it
(l-r) Petra Larsson, Daria Bondarenko and Toomas Luhats (© Raul Mee)

How can streamers position features and TV series shot in local languages in a rapidly evolving market? At TV Beats, one of the industry strands of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, four streamers tried to answer this question and shared some of their current and future editorial strategies. The 45-minute panel took place on 20 November and saw the participation of Petra Larsson of Cmore, Filippa Wallestam of NENT Group/Viaplay (who attended remotely), Toomas Luhats of ERR with Daria Bondarenko of Russia's Start.

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After a short introduction, the floor was given to Wallestam who defined their recent productions as embodying, to some extent, Nordic cultural heritage but targeting audiences with "global ambition." She reminded that Viaplay launched in the Baltic republics earlier this year, in Poland in August and is set to reach 16 countries in total by 2024/2025, including the UK and the Netherlands. She also touched upon the making of the first Estonian Viaplay original, titled Who Shot Otto Mueller?, and the importance of commissioning original productions in local languages: "This year we're aiming for 50 originals, next year we will aim to reach 60." However, NENT Group is also willing to produce at least two English-speaking films per year, and these titles should feature some kind of strong link with Nordic cultures, stories or characters. In this respect, she mentioned the example of Lasse Hallström's Hilma, which will centre on the revolutionary Swedish artist and feminist pioneer Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) and feature a Swedish/British cast. She later explained that NENT Group at the moment doesn't have partnerships with distributors. For the group, it's important to produce strong titles for Viaplay and that's why they self-finance them. Nevertheless, Wallestam stated that the team is exploring the idea of testing alternative distribution models, perhaps having features screened during "a theatrical window and then land it on Viaplay" or "even premiere a film at the same time with the platform, so that viewers can decide how to watch it." When looking for new projects, Wallestam pointed out that they prefer "local ideas," whilst for more "international" shows they would not be the main commissioner, but might come onboard as co-producers, such as in the case of MGM/Viaplay recently announced co-production Billy the Kid. In any case, the core of their editorial strategy is still based on streaming sports content, Viaplay originals and acquired content.

Luhats talked about the launch of Jupiter, ERR's own streaming service: "Initially, we had very low expectations, nobody thought it could have been successful. We've been in the market for 1.5/2 years and we gathered programming from our TV and radio stations and packed it in a manner that is more appealing for the audience. We host a huge variety of shows, and it's a totally free VOD service." Luhats later said that the team is planning to produce some original shows, "ideally drama series" but that this will require a cautious strategy. Currently, he runs the acquisitions department for four ERR channels and Jupiter. Similarly to what Finnish pubcaster YLE does, ERR may also adapt a fine piece of storytelling to a format that would differ from the one initially pitched by its authors, and Luhats mentioned the example of someone proposing the making of a podcast, while the network was eager to commission a drama series.

Bondarenko said that Start is "one of the first Russian streamers putting original scripted drama at the forefront." She added that next year there will be more than 20 new in-house productions and touched upon their close co-operation with advertising and talent agencies. Start's initial focus was to intercept Russian audience, but the player feels now ready to aim for a more global audience. Their preferred pieces of content include "multilayered storytelling" and "mixed genres."

Larsson of Cmore (active in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway) spoke about the recent deal sealed with Walter Presents and introduced Knutby, a series based on the real events of the Knutby murder that shook the Swedish public opinion in the early 2000s, which has been widely covered in many shows, documentaries and podcasts. The creators chose not to focus on the murder itself, but rather on the terrible events leading up to it. Cmore is willing to explore fresh regional and international partnerships similar to that established with Walter Presents, especially after Telia's acquisition of Bonnier Broadcasting (of which Cmore is a part of) and the creation of a sister company in the Baltic region.

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