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Nordisk at 110: Scandinavian Giant Looks to Its Past for Future Success

Variety logo Variety 12/2/2016 Jorn Rossing Jensen
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“Storytelling, entrepreneurship and adaptation to changing industry environment have always been part of the DNA of Nordisk Film. That — together with owners like Egmont that have a long-term view on the film business — are some of the components for the long-term success,” says CEO Allan Mathson Hansen, of Denmark’s Nordisk Film. This year the country’s leading film company celebrates its 110th anniversary on top of Nordic production and distribution.

When Hansen took over as CEO in 2008, he launched a restructuring of the company.

”We sold parts of our TV format and our music businesses,” he says. “It was all about getting back to the profitable core of the company and then develop from there. Today Nordisk Film is standing on four pillars: we produce and distribute content, we run leading cinema chains, we distribute Sony’s PlayStation, and we have ventured into a range of new adjacent businesses, for instance gift cards, ticketing, and gaming.”

The strategy has paid off with Nordisk notching an all-time high revenue of $535 million in 2015, on the strength of its investments in such films as Danish hit “Klown Forever,” which sold 500,000 tickets, Swedish blockbuster “A Man Called Ove,” which sold 1.5 million tickets, and Norway’s “The Wave,” which tallied up 835,000 admissions.

“We had record numbers in 2015, 2016 is looking very strong and in all our main areas there is expectation of growth in the coming years,” Hansen says.

He notes that Nordisk has an ambitious growth strategy laid out. “We want to be involved in more productions in the Nordic countries and also productions on an international scale. We want to go even more into TV series production — why shouldn’t we be the ones to make the next hit series on Netflix or HBO?,” he says. “We have the talent, the knowledge, and the economic foundation to think in more global terms.”

Hansen says Nordisk is investing heavily in the development, production, and distribution of content. “I see us as the leading film, TV and entertainment company in Scandinavia.”

Looking back on the company’s history, he says, “Nordisk Film has been the epicenter of Danish film for 110 years, and there are many people and events that define the company. I am really inspired by our founder, Ole Olsen. He was an entrepreneur with a great vision and with truly international ambitions. When he was in charge, Nordisk Film had offices around the world and made films for an international market.”

Hansen says the idea of thinking big is inspirational, moving the company toward another anniversary.

“We are standing on top of his legacy, building upon it, and I think we have a lot of the same spirit today — we have great ambitions and solid projects that are of a truly international standard while we are still very much rooted in our primary Scandinavian

market.”

One of Nordisk Films’ highest-profile units is Nordisk Film Production, the inhouse banner with divisions in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. It’s behind Martin Zandvliet’s “Land of Mine,” Denmark’s foreign-language Oscar entry.

“The overall strategy for Nordisk Film Production is the same as when the company was founded: to entertain a broad audience,” says Henrik Zein, general manager of Nordisk Film Production, noting the company’s output in feature films, animation, short films, TV series, and TV documentaries.

“We seek the balance between talent and business, and believe that true quality comes from creative freedom. And a part of the success is the strong collaboration between the director and the producer, and our ambition of being a home for talent.”

Zein is also responsible for Nordisk Film’s extensive film catalog, dating back to 1906.

Zein works with some of the most successful producers in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, but the company is also an active co-producer for local and foreign productions.  “We support and even encourage our creative talents to go abroad, and we seek to be part of the journey — our so-called ‘follow-the-talent strategy.’”

Another arm of the operation is Nordisk Film Distribution, which has undergone an exciting transformation.

“Our operation has changed from being pure distribution to include co-production and investments,” says Nordisk Film Distribution general manager Kenneth Wiberg. “We are helping to develop projects instead of just picking up a finished product, to ensure that all major commercial and interesting film projects get off the ground.”

Wiberg, who joined Nordisk more than 20 years ago, oversees the acquisition and distribution of U.S. and Nordic feature films for theatrical, digital, video, video-on-demand, TV, and international distribution as well as overseeing Nordisk’s OTT channels.

“Besides our own productions, we have partnerships with all the leading production companies in the Nordic region,” he says. He notes that it handles 30-40 Nordic releases per year across several countries, as well as releases from Lionsgate/Summit and Amblin Partners. “Additionally, we work with companies in the U.S. and Europe on a title-by-title basis. Annually, we have 22-25 releases of U.S. and international titles. We have a cinema release every week in one of the four Nordic countries.

“Our challenge is the conversion and digitization in the home-entertainment market. The lack of DVD sales income has increased financing problems — the distributor often ends up taking significantly higher risks on major film projects. But it is gratifying to see that the digital market is growing, so there will again be room for pure home-entertainment titles.”

Wiberg says Nordisk has agreements with all the digital platforms, and strong strategies in place to grow digital sales, including consumer education and outreach via Nordic telcos.

“The future for Nordisk Film looks bright. We are in a strong position to maintain and develop new and exciting partnerships both on the supply side and on the customer side.”

Up Next for Nordisk

Denmark

“The Alphabet House”

Release: 2018

Based on best-selling novel by Jussi Adler-Olsen.

“White Dog”

Director: Asger Leth

Release: 2018

Drama about two skinhead brothers

Norway

“12th Man”

Director: Harald Zwart

November

The story of Norwegian WWII hero Jan Baalsrud

“Mortal”

Director: André Øvredal

Release: 2018

New film from “Trollhunter” helmer

Sweden

“Young Astrid”

Director: Pernille Fischer Christensen

Release: 2018

A biopic of Astrid Lindgren

Co-produced by Nordisk:

Denmark

“Small Town Killers”

Director: Ole Bornedal

Release: January

Two Jutland artisans and friends hire a Russian assassin to kill their wives, but they have underestimated the women, and suddenly they are on the top of a hit list.

 Sweden

“All Inclusive”

Director: Karen Fahlén

Release: Fall 2017

A Swedish remake of Danish director Hella Joof’s 2014 local hit dramedy.

“Stallo”

Director: Mikael Marcimain

Release: 2018

Adapted from Swedish author Stefan Spjut’s local 2012 best-selling supernatural thriller.

“Borg/McEnroe”

Director: Janus Metz

Release: Fall 2017

“The story of two men who became legends and the price they had to pay” is the tagline of the film about the rivalry between tennis stars Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

Pictured above: “A Man Called Ove”

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