For Anders Jensen, it should feel like squaring the circle. For years, it was Netflix’s seemingly unstoppable rise that gave the Viaplay Group CEO the impetus to radically transform his broadcasting group into a streaming provider – sooner, faster, and more consistently than any other European TV broadcaster. For a good six months now, the biggest challenge has been defining Netflix. Jensen has to convince his investors that Viaplay can continue to grow and not be affected by the flabby global model.
“Since the price of Netflix has fallen, a lot of people are saying the streaming industry has a problem, but that’s not what we’re seeing,” Al-Suwaidi told the Financial Times. “It should be a kind of alert when we’re performing very differently from other players. It’s a mistake to define a market based on just one provider.” Jensen has the bare numbers on his side: In the first half of the year, his platform grew 69 percent to 5.5 million subscribers. Operating result doubled to 74 million euros in the same period.
Viaplay is currently active in eleven countries. From the local Scandinavian markets, the company has spread to the Baltic states, Poland, the Netherlands and – since December – the United States. UK launch imminent. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Canada will follow in 2023. By the end of 2025, there are twelve million subscribers to the plan. Jensen can’t and doesn’t want to stop the moving train now. Of course, the financial markets aren’t rewarding him for that: Viaplay’s trajectory has halved since the start of the year. No streamer can truly escape from the general trend, be it fair or unfair.
A look at Viaplay is fascinating because the history of the Nordic group could theoretically be the history of RTL or ProSiebenSat.1, a traditionally strong, regionally established, primarily advertising-financed television group looking for the digital future. Except that the people in Cologne or Unterföhring did not invest half the courage in broadcasting as they did in Stockholm. Jensen’s content wife, Chief Content Officer Philippa Walstam, explained DWDL.de’s “all-in” strategy last year: “At a certain point, we made broadcasting our top priority and we consciously accepted that we were disrupting previous core business.”
Viaplay, which was called Nordic Entertainment Group until May, still operates twelve commercial free television channels such as TV3 in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. But their sensitivities were not taken into account for a long time because the linear range breaks down anyway. Wallestam’s production curve has gone up sharply since then: in 2016, the first original landed on Viaplay, in 2020 there were already 30, last year 50, and this year 70 of his series, films and documentaries. In addition, there is a strong foothold in the sport, because Viaplay has invested in attractive streaming rights at an early stage to differentiate itself from the great American competitor. Just in time to get started in Great Britain, streaming service Premier Sports was acquired there in order to gain access to its rights to Scottish, Irish, Italian and Spanish football as well as various rugby leagues. Jensen, the head of Viaplay, who also holds the broadcast rights to the British Premier League for the Netherlands, Poland and the Baltic states since this summer, announced loudly that he wants to attack the sports rights duopoly between Sky and BT in Great Britain in the medium term.
39-year-old Swedish Filippa Walstam, who has made the transition from a consulting career in Boston to one of Europe’s most popular fantasy bosses over the past eight years, has been constantly adapting her production strategy as part of expansion. “In our home markets of the Nordic countries, we are known for our drama,” Wallestam says. “They define the brand and are the most important driver of new subscribers. In new markets, on the other hand, we start with caution because we first want to learn the local taste and we don’t want to simply impose Nordic Noir on every one.”
Produced by the group’s production unit, Viaplay Studios, more than 90 percent of Viaplay assets are created in the respective local language. “We want to be as authentic as possible,” Walstam said. However, in the spring of 2021, the decision was made to shoot two to three English-language films and series each year in order to enable higher budgets through corresponding global distribution. The first score celebrates its streaming premiere on November 18: In the biographical film Hilma, twice Oscar-nominated director Lacey Hallström portrays Swedish painter Hilma F Klint, considered a pioneer in abstract painting—performed by Hallström’s wife, Hollywood star Lina. Olin, and at a young age their daughter, Tora Hallström. The first English-language series, “King 21”, is currently filming in Sweden and Canada and follows the career of Swedish ice hockey legend Börje Salming in the North American NHL.
Viaplay is also seriously involved in international co-production, most recently with ZDF on “Furia” or the Mammoth series “Der Schwarm”, which is in post-production. Wallestam has signed a multi-year co-production deal for six English-language series with Rola Power, president of MGM International Television Productions. Viaplay will get the exclusive rights to Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Poland and the Baltic states, while MGM will get the rest of the world. One would like to know what rights the Wallestam team has already acquired for the DACH region. But Viaplay remains silent on this.