Sony Pictures Extends Viaplay Streaming Partnership in the Nordics

Forget Netflix and HBO Max, Sony Pictures Television April 28 announced it has agreed to extend a multiyear deal with Norway’s Viaplay subscription streaming platform. The agreement means Viaplay’s 4 million subscribers will have first access to Sony Pictures Entertainment movies and television series, including catalog titles and new TV series.

In addition to Spider-Man: No Way Home, Viaplay subs will have access to the screen debuts of new Marvel characters Kraven the Hunter, Madame Web and Morbius following their theatrical and home entertainment windows. The deal also includes franchises “Uncharted,” “Venom,” “Jumanji,” “Ghostbusters,” “Peter Rabbit,” “Bad Boys” and “Spider-Man,” as well as some of SPE’s upcoming and future slate.

“This renewal reflects the value that our partnership creates for both companies,” Filippa Wallestam, NENT Group Chief Content Officer, said in a statement.

Upcoming Sony movies include Bullet Train, with Brad Pitt headlining an ensemble cast of eclectic, diverse assassins; Where The Crawdads Sing, which is based upon the novel by Delia Owens; and Miles Morales returns for the next chapter of the Oscar-winning “Spider-Verse” saga, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.

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Viaplay will also be the Nordic home of an array of major new series from SPT’s upcoming slate, to be unveiled and presented at Sony’s LA Screenings event in May. The slate includes `Accused’ from Howard Gordon and Alex Ganza (`Homeland’), and the gripping four-part Vicky McLure psychological thriller, ‘Without Sin.’ Among the SPT series already available on Viaplay are hits such as ‘Outlander,’ ‘The Blacklist,’ ‘The Good Doctor,’ ‘S.W.A.T.’ and ‘L.A.’s Finest.’

The agreement also secures new SPE films and series for Viaplay’s V Film pay-TV channels, and a wide selection of new and library films for Viaplay’s Scandinavian TV channels.

“This deal also opens a treasure trove of classics from our phenomenally vast SPE feature film and TV series library for Viaplay’s audience to enjoy,” said Mark Young, EVP of distribution and networks for EMEA at Sony Pictures Television.

In addition, Viaplay and SPE have recently concluded long-term content deals that secure SPE content for Viaplay viewers in the Baltic countries, Poland and the Netherlands.

Viaplay is targeting about 12 million subscribers by the end of 2025, including 6 million in the Nordic region and 6 million internationally, including the United States.

HBO Max Adds 635,000 Scandinavian Subscribers

HBO has gained more than 635,000 new SVOD subscribers in the Nordics since an October 2021 reboot from HBO Nordic to HBO Max, according to new figures from Mediavision.

The gain puts the WarnerMedia-owned streamer back into the top three, with an estimated 2.2 million households — and an average Nordic household penetration of just below 20%.

HBO has always had a strong streaming presence in Scandinavia. It was the first U.S. SVOD service to challenge Netflix, as well as local players such as Viaplay, and establish a strong market position in the region.

Three months ago, the HBO Nordic brand was changed to HBO Max as part of WarnerMedia’s brand reboot in the Nordic countries and worldwide. 

In 2019, shortly after the last season of “Game of Thrones” premiered, HBO Nordic reached near 2 million households (15-74-years-olds). But between then and the Max reboot, the service lost about 400,000 subs.

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Max corporate parent AT&T this week announced that HBO and Max ended 2021 with 73.8 million combined subs, which exceeded previous year-end estimates of 73 million.

“The launch of HBO Max has had a direct, positive, effect on the total number of Nordic SVOD subscriptions, however, the effect on household penetration is less substantial,” Marie Nilsson, CEO of Mediavision, said in a statement.

Nilsson contends that the majority of the new subs already subscribed to at least one other service. The analyst says Max has pushed “stacking” on the Nordic market. A trend, Nilsson says, is what transpired following the launch of Disney+ in the fall of 2020.

“Our conclusion is that despite a clearly maturing market in terms of SVOD household penetration, we can still expect a continuous growth of subscriptions,” Nilsson said. “The demand for strong content has still not reached its peak in the Nordics.”

BritBox Streaming Service Heading to the Nordics

BritBox International, the subscription streaming video service from BBC Studios and ITV, will soon be available in Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Norway through a distribution partnership with Scandinavian SVOD serivce C More. This pact marks the first for BritBox in the Nordics, and means the service will be available in a total of eight countries.

In early 2022, C More subscribers will have access to all BritBox English-language programming with both local and English-language subtitles available in each country. Launch date and pricing will be announced at a later date.

Non-C More subs will have the opportunity to subscribe directly to BritBox in these countries. Launched in 2017, Britbox reportedly has 2.6 million subs worldwide, including 1.5 million in the United States.

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C More reportedly had more than 18% penetration in Swedish households in 2020.

“BritBox International has built a fast-growing subscriber base who are passionate and loyal British television viewers,” Reemah Sakaan, CEO of BritBox International, said in a statement.

“British drama has been loved and appreciated in the Nordics for generations, and it is therefore a huge privilege to give our viewers this unique access to the great collection on BritBox,” said Anna Chrona, Head of Commercial, C More. “Through the partnership with BritBox we secure a substantial volume of content, including classic crime favorites and exclusive premieres of new BritBox originals for our customers to explore.”

BritBox will be distributed directly by C More in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, and via TV 2 in Norway.

Buzz Grows as HBO Nordic Transitions to Max Oct. 26

HBO Nordic was one of the first forays by an American media company to compete against Netflix on the global stage. The subscription streaming video platform had sought to beat Netflix to the Scandinavian market, but followed up the SVOD pioneer, launching in 2014.

Since then, Netflix has dominated the market — no small task considering the Nordics represent the world’s highest penetration of SVOD services. On Oct. 26, HBO Nordic transitions to HBO Max as part of WarnerMedia’s global rollout of the branded SVOD/AVOD platform.

Max is expanding to six European countries (the Nordics being four of them), with an 14 additional territories added in 2022.

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Consumer interest in Max is substantial, with a majority of households that plan to purchase service, already having at least one other video streaming service, according to Mediavision. The research firm contends Max will drive service stacking rather than overall household penetration — similar to how Disney+ entered the region a year ago. Since then, Disney+ has managed to add over 1.6 million Nordic households in less than one year.

The buzz is welcomed considering HBO Nordic has been losing subscribers since reaching 1.9 million households in early 2020. That tally declined by 145,000 homes during the pandemic as housebound consumers sought alternative streaming services. Netflix ended 2020 with more than 4 million Scandinavian subs.

The SVOD market overall has added about 3 million new subs since spring 2020, according to Mediavision.

In a note, the research firm believes Max’s lower subscription price (8.90 Euro), compared to (10.95 Euro) for HBO Nordic. At launch, current HBO Nordic will be able to get Max for an annual fee of 69.99 Euro, or 5.83 Euro monthly. Only Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime Video are less expensive.

In addition, Max will allow three simultaneous streams compared to two for HBO Nordic. Netflix’s top tier (four simultaneous streams) costs 15.99 Euro.

The launch of Max will bring a whole new set of localized series and movies to the service, including the Swedish comedy drama “Lust,” staring Sofia Helin and Anja Lundqvist.

Max also promises improvements to technical aspects of the service, including user experience and the possibility to create individual profiles, as well as usage of the service on an unlimited number of devices. This is a lot more user friendly than HBO Nordic.

“HBO is pulling a ‘Disney’ on the Nordic market,” Mediavision wrote in a note. “Launching a high-end, fiction-oriented, technically advanced service at a significantly lower price. With a history of great performance in the Nordic market, and a high consumer interest, things are looking very exciting for HBO.”

Scandinavian TV Operators Focus on Original Content to Compete Against Netflix

Scandinavia, which includes Norway and Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, has long been a stronghold for over-the-top video distribution. HBO launched its first SVOD service, HBO Nordics, in the region in 2012.

Swedish TV operator Com Hem in 2014 was one of the first cable operators to offer subscribers direct access to Netflix. The SVOD pioneer is now the largest streaming service in the Nordics with more than 5 million subscribers.

As a result, local TV distributors have partnered (Nordics 12) to up local content production in an effort to better compete against Netflix.

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Despite boasting a large catalog of international content and having made investments in local titles such as “Red Dot” (Netflix), foreign SVOD services have largely ignored domestically-produced series. This has led local OTT competitors to develop their own locally produced originals as a differentiating factor, according to new data from Ampere Analytics.

Indeed, Netflix Sweden features just 3% local titles, while Amazon Prime Video offers 1% local fare. Meanwhile, almost half (47%) of the content offered by CMore and 13% of Viaplay’s is locally produced, and the majority of Nordic content currently in production has been commissioned by local players.

Viaplay as the biggest commissioner of new TV shows in the region, followed by public broadcasters SVT, YLE and DR.

Analyst Léa Cunat said local and regional distgributors are ramping up investment in originated content, either individually or as part of partnerships like Nordic 12 to win audiences’ loyalty in both local and international markets.

“Across the globe we’re seeing local TV groups trying to take on the power of the global streaming services by capitalizing on whichever gaps in the market exist,” Cunat said in a statement.

Netflix Ups Nordic Movie Production

Netflix has increased original movie production in Scandinavia, including productions in Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

The SVOD behemoth Nov. 14 at the Stockholm Film Festival announced titles include Swedish thriller, Red Dot; Norway’s horror pic, Cadaver and Denmark’s World War II film, Shadows in My Eyes.

The news follows Netflix’s move into original feature film production in Holland with The Battle of the Scheldt.

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“We are very happy to be taking this exciting step in offering our members in the Nordics more local content, as well as bring more great content from the Nordic region to our global members,” Lina Brouneus, director of licensing and co-productions for Netflix in Northern Europe, said in a statement.

Norway is home to Netflix’s first original production, “Lilyhammer,” starring Steven Van Zandt, which began streaming in 2012.

Last year, Netflix inked a deal with Danish producer Kim Magnusson for original movies from the Nordic region.

“These three films are all unique in their own way: strong genre films with engaging plot lines that are driven by talented creatives,” Brouneus said. “Together they form a strong package of different genres which will showcase the versatility and high quality of Nordic movies.”

GameStop Reportedly Shutting Down Nordic Stores

Fiscally challenged GameStop is reportedly set to begin closing upwards of 300 stores in Scandinavia in 2020.

The closures have not been officially announced, but store managers in the region confirmed the move, according to Computer Sweden. In addition, an annual management conference was reportedly canceled.

The move comes as the world’s largest video game retailer contends with ongoing consumer migration toward online gaming and console manufacturers delay new product launches until late next year.

GameStop posted a net loss of more than $400 million — or $32 million when excluding impairment charges, in its most-recent fiscal period. Revenue fell more than 14% to $1.28 billion from more than $1.5 billion during the previous-year period.

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“We are on track to close between 180 and 200 underperforming stores globally by the end of this fiscal year,” GameStop CFO Jim Bell said on the September fiscal call. The chain operates more than 5,700 stores globally. Bell said the closures marked the beginning of ongoing re-evaluation across all company operating units.

“We are applying a more definitive, analytic approach, including profit levels and sales transferability, that we expect will yield a much larger tranche of closures over the coming 12 to 24 months,” he said.

‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ Drive HBO Nordic Sub Growth

Scandinavia (especially Sweden) has long been a hotbed for subscription streaming video. HBO launched its first over-the-top video service — HBO Nordic — long before the domestic rollout of HBO Now in 2014.

HBO Nordic remains a formidable competitor to Netflix and other local SVOD services notably this year thanks to “Game of Thrones” and “Big Little Lies,” among other programming.

New data from Mediavision contends the final season of “Thrones” and second season of “Lies” jumpstarted HBO Nordic subscriber growth to more than 200,000 members in Sweden in the second quarter (ended June 30) — up 50% from the previous-year period.

By comparison, market leader Netflix grew 14% year-over-year.

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Mediavision believes the sub growth can also be attributed to new seasons of “Big Little Lies,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” — the latter available in the U.S. exclusively on Hulu. HBO’s original (created by Comcast-owned Sky) miniseries — “Chernobyl” — also received a strong reception from both Swedish audiences and critics.

As is the trend globally among OTT and traditional media distributors, original content is driving subscriber interest. But it’s not just global services that are increasing their content investments.

In Sweden, both C More and Viaplay have launched new drama series, in addition to extending existing episodic programming. Viaplay’s owner NENT has announced that it intends to launch six new original series in 2019.

Netflix, of course, has taken original content one step further. Its Swedish original series, “Greatest of all,” is produced for Netflix by the Swedish production company FLX — a strategy the SVOD pioneer is emulating in markets worldwide.

“We are moving towards a period where the value of many and strong titles is likely to increase further,” Marie Nilsson, CEO of Mediavision, said in a statement. “The hunt for new customers is also learning to intensify, as major players such as Disney and Apple are ready to enter Sweden, too. This will help drive the streaming market further.”