NENT Group CEO Anders Jensen, the recipient of this year’s Variety Vanguard Award, says the Scandinavian company plans to emulate a BritBox-style model for Nordic Noir when it launches in the U.S. this December.
Speaking with Variety in Cannes during the Vanguard keynote on Monday, Jensen discussed NENT Group-backed streaming service Viaplay’s ambitious expansion strategy, which plans to reach 16 markets by the end of 2023. (Countries such as the U.K., Canada, Austria and Germany were announced last month.)
The U.S. launch for the company — whose originals slate includes the likes of “Swedish Dicks” and “Pørni” — will come in December, though an exact date is still unknown. Asked whether Viaplay in the U.S. might do for Nordic content Stateside what the BBC and ITV’s streaming service BritBox has done for the exposure of British programming, Jensen agreed that the four-year-old SVOD is “a good analogy to use.”
“There are quite a few similarities,” said Jensen. And, much like BritBox, NENT Group’s service will also “evolve over time.”
“We want to do English-language original content, and we have recently greenlit some U.S.-based originals as well,” said Jensen.
The executive said the U.S. offering will be most appealing to fans of Nordic Noir. “That definition is becoming a little bit dated, because it’s more a matter of perspective around the content. It doesn’t necessarily have to be crime,” said Jensen. “But it’s a perspective … and there’s definitely an audience in the U.S.”
The service won’t be number one in America, Jensen warns (“There are a few others,” he jokes), but that’s not the game plan, anyway. “We want to find that niche audience with our content, since we’re producing it for a lot of countries anyway. [We want to] secure the rights also for the U.S. and get the scale benefits of having our own platform. It’s very attractive from a financial point of view.”
Elsewhere in the conversation, Jensen also discussed the streamer’s aggressive sports rights strategy in countries such as Poland, where Viaplay launched in August, as well as the Netherlands, where the service will debut early next year. In the latter, Viaplay will be the exclusive home for Formula 1 and Bundesliga soccer coverage.
While that rights package will make Viaplay a must-have platform for sports fans in the Netherlands, Jensen said the company is taking a “country by country” approach in general when it comes to bidding for sports rights.
“We have a long history of doing sports in the Nordics that goes back to pay TV and linear TV days. We’ve now moved all of that over to streaming,” explained the CEO, who was appointed to lead NENT Group in 2018.
“We stream almost 60,000 hours of live sports every year,” said Jensen, adding that NENT has the European Premier League, Formula 1 and NHL rights in nine countries. “In terms of triple A rights — the biggest rights in sports — we probably have more than anybody else in the world actually.”
“That’s a fantastic opportunity because of its craftsmanship and we’re — humbly saying — pretty good at it,” added Jensen. “But it’s not for every country. I’m sure Sky would have a word or two to say if we went for Premier League in the U.K. and I’m not so sure that would be a fantastic idea for us. It’s really a matter of where you want to play, and where you want to stay, and create something that’s viable.”
The combination of sports with original content in countries like the Baltics, Poland and the Netherlands makes Viaplay a unique proposition in households, and that allows the company to monetize in “slightly different ways” to its competitors.
Jensen doesn’t rule out any bid for sports rights in the U.K. just yet, but the executive notes that it will be a measured move that will target less high-profile sports first.
“One doesn’t have to go for the biggest rights in every country,” said Jensen. “In Germany or the U.K. those are big-ticket rights … maybe we can start with the smaller sports rights and build from there.”