TV 2: Making a Difference with High-end Danish Content
BY Georgi R. Chakarov
As the entertainment and TV industry evolves into ‘one market’ dominated by tech giants and US broadcasters transforming into global streamers, local players are facing new challenges in their own markets. If Netflix, Facebook and Google were not enough, pretty soon Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock will also start fighting for their viewers and ad money. The local leaders must adapt to the new media environment and come out stronger than ever with their own diversified content offer and new platforms in order to engage and keep their audiences. One good example of a local market leader that is making its first successful steps in this direction is Danish TV 2 – with increased half-year revenues and record-breaking viewership, a jump in paying streaming subscribers and a fast-evolving digital content offer. As CEO Anne Engdal Stig Christensen tells Georgi R. Chakarov, the key to this success is giving Danes the themes and stories that bind them together.
Anne Engdal, CEO TV2
Anne, you became the CEO of TV 2 this August. What will be some of the main goals that you want to achieve at the helm of the group?
In the coming years, TV 2’s main strategy is to strengthen the company’s digital transformation. Today, we have a unique position in the Danish media landscape that we need to maintain in a world of streaming, where media habits are significantly changing and the competition is intense. Therefore, we must accelerate the development of our streaming service TV 2 PLAY - both commercially, technically and on the content side. We need to increase the digital revenue and the overall growth of TV 2 PLAY. We must do so on a foundation of strong public service deliverables. Therefore, we are not only facing a general digital transformation but also a public service transformation; a transformation where we take TV 2’s commitments and role with us into the streaming world. A key goal is to make TV 2 PLAY the Danes’ new main door into all the excellent content that has characterized our traditional business for more than 30 years.

Immediately after you became CEO you announced changes in the management structure of TV 2. Have you already seen the positive effects of this restructuring?
The organizational change was implemented on September 1, so it is still too early to see the effects. That said, we have a clear expectation that TV 2’s organization is now even more geared to meet the many challenges ahead. Collaboration and synergies across the organization are strengthened, and with a new strategic management team we can put even more effort in our group strategic projects. The purpose of the changes is to strengthen and accelerate our development of TV 2 PLAY. Hence, I expect that the effects will show quickly.

TV 2 had one of its best H1 results ever in terms of viewership and finances. How do you explain this impressive success?
TV 2 is the only player in the Danish TV industry that can present an increased audience share as a channel family. We achieved a combined share of 40.3% in the first half of 2019. It is clear to me that the Danish viewers want TV 2 and our content. Our content is one of the main reasons behind our great result as it both keeps viewers in front of the traditionally distributed TV, but also ensures that they go to TV 2 PLAY. The streaming service reached half a million subscriptions in the first half of the year, thus providing a considerable growth in our digital revenue. It is essential that each of our channels are strong and that they complement each other well. In addition, I think we have Europe’s most effective cross-promotion abilities and marketing engine, plus a well-functioning ecosystem where the goal is to give our users a unique experience on every one of our platforms based on the same content. Moreover, we have been very good at constantly expanding our content offerings with new strong formats.

The New Nurses

TV 2 offers the biggest volume of original content on the Danish market. Can you mention some of the key titles and genres that grab the attention of the local viewers and how do you plan to build up on this strategy?
TV 2’s content strategy is based on a number of positions of strengths - that is, genres in which we are particularly strong, and where we have a clear ambition to maintain, and hopefully, expand our position. These are Danish fiction, entertainment, news, sports and documentaries, as well as programs that are close to Danes’ everyday life and their reality. This year, we have had great success with the introduction of The X Factor to TV 2’s universe. Moreover, we set the agenda with a documentary about children’s daily lives in a number of day care institutions, and let’s not forget the sixth season of the fiction series The Seaside Hotel, which again was the most watched program series in the first half of the year. Lastly, the Danish parliamentary elections in June contributed to a record audience share for our news channel TV 2 NEWS. Common to these examples are their relevance to the Danish viewers.

What will be the main highlights for your channels and platforms this fall season?
We will increasingly present content that works across TV 2’s traditional channels and TV 2 PLAY, as well as continuously develop our scheduling to cater both platforms in a balanced way. The content should be relevant across target groups, and we will have a large and varied program offering to each platform. For TV 2 PLAY, we will reinforce its unique content with a focus on small documentaries from our news section and programs suited for streaming and young people. Additionally, in the autumn, we will continue to build on our positions of strengths with entertainment programs such as The Best Singers and Dancing with the Stars. Within the fiction programming we will be premiering several Danish series, and by the end of the year our new Christmas calendar Tinka and The Kings Game will air. Additionally, we will focus on environmental issues; together with the Danes, we will plant a number of forests across the country to put climate changes on the agenda.

Content-wise what will be the main pillars in TV 2’s offer looking forward?
Danish quality content and public service will be the focal point of our strategy in the coming years. Danes are changing their media habits but still need something to share and gather around. We need stories that bind us together and express our commonality. These stories are important to bring to life and contribute to the conversation and the development of the Danish society. We often state that if you cannot feel it then it is not TV 2 and if our content does not leave an impression or encourages to thoughts and progress – then it is not public service. TV 2 can satisfy these needs through news, documentary, fiction, entertainment and lifestyle programs. Finally, from 2020, we are increasing our sports broadcasting as we introduce a new - and our second - sports channel, created for TV 2 PLAY. Likewise, we are increasing our offering of fiction programs as well as offering more entertainment programs to the young audience with the dance show The Greatest Dancer which we are excited to introduce.

Many of our programs continue to be popular. One example is Dancing with the Stars, which has proven its long-lasting popularity among the Danish viewers. Hence, we have continuously developed the show throughout the last 15 seasons, and in the coming 16th season a same-sex couple participates for the first time. Moreover, we have built a whole new studio for the show this season.

Dancing with the Stars

Streaming continues to take up a bigger share of Danes’ viewing time and it has become a priority for the main TV players. Who are your main rivals in this segment and how do you make TV 2 PLAY stand out among other services?
The consumer habits of Danes are changing, so even if they leave the traditional TV business, we have a great and strong offer for them in our streaming business. To us, those two businesses do not contradict each other. TV 2 has had a vital role in the Danes’ media consumption for more than 30 years and TV 2 PLAY builds on this strong position. Our Danish quality content ties it all into one business. Looking at streaming and competitors we see a different competitive picture and we are up against international players such as Netflix, HBO and others. TV 2 PLAY’s great strength and advantage lie in the Danish content. Our programs originate from Danish traditions, and unlike the international players, we are much closer to the everyday life and reality of Danes. Right now, for example, we are strengthening the Danish news and current affairs content on the service and I find it hard to imagine Netflix and HBO cultivating this genre. After all, we are fighting for the consumers’ time - for the time of the Danish viewers. We are competing with both Danish and foreign players, and I know that the competition will only intensify more and more with new global players in local markets. Therefore, we stand by our strong tradition of making a difference by providing top quality and Danish content.

Is TV 2 planning to cooperate with international streamers in terms of content production? How big is the threat for the local players from the likes of Netflix and the upcoming Disney+ and HBO Max?
On the one hand, international streaming services are competitors but on the other hand we are happy to enter into sensible partnerships. Our many fiction programs are of high quality, and we find that we are perceived as guarantors of good drama. In general, Scandinavian high-end productions are an attractive commodity internationally. We work with other European public service providers, as well as Netflix – where we most recently partnered on the fifth season of the series Rita, produced for TV 2 by SF Studios Production in collaboration with Netflix. I hope that we can find ways to exchange content to a higher degree so that we do not only become a supplier of talent and high-quality drama but that it also comes the other way.

Denmark has built a name for strong drama – mainly through the Nordic Noir genre. TV 2 has had its own share of success with period drama titles. Do you take international trends and demand when developing your new shows with the goal to sell them abroad?
We find, that when we produce fiction series with strong characters and themes that interest Danish viewers, they work well abroad. We are lucky that Denmark is a bit exotic and stories in a Danish framework are fascinating and interesting to other cultures. Therefore, we do not develop fiction content based on international trends or with international sales in mind. The New Nurses is a great example of a historical series with great international interest - most recently it has been sold to several countries and has three nominations at European festivals in autumn. The series is about the first Danish male nursing students in the 1950s, and with the gender debate still relevant here 70 years later, we have created a series with a contemporary theme that has not only been popular with Danish viewers but extends beyond Denmark’s borders.

TV 2 is one of the most diverse commercial broadcasters in Europe, operating channels focusing on various audiences – regional, youth, elderly, sports. How hard is it to both viewers satisfied and at the same time maintain a successful business?
As a commercial public service company, TV 2 balances between the consideration of our revenue and our support from the Danish viewers and has done so for many years. These two things are not necessarily contradictory, as investments in strong public service content often achieves high viewership, which is crucial to our commercial business. In a digital world where loyalty to streaming services and the users’ patience is less, it is even more important to focus on viewer satisfaction to keep and retain customers. It is crucial to have an agile organization and a strong interdisciplinary cooperation around the development of our content. Thus, the organizational development must constantly be moving and adapting to the new reality of the media world.

The X Factor

Are there certain demos that you would to focus more on and invest more in the relevant content?
The young people are a central target group for TV 2 in order to ensure a strong position in the Danish media landscape - now and in the future. We have a strategic project, called Relation25, that we began a few years back. Relation25 is focusing on the development of content and activities that make TV 2’s platforms interesting to the 20-30-year-old. So far, this has resulted in the acquisition of The X Factor, the establishment of the digital news offering TV 2 ECHO, e-sports on TV 2 ZULU and TV 2 PLAY as well as several fiction offers to the young target group. Young people are also important in relation to TV 2 SPORT X - our sports channel on TV 2 PLAY, which from 2020 strengthens TV 2’s total sports offering to the many passionate fans.

The Danish advertising market seems to be rather stable with positive growth compared to neighboring countries. What have been the recent trends and how is TV 2 adapting to the new demands of the clients?
The large majority of TV 2’s advertising revenue comes from the traditional business. However, we are experiencing fine growth rates in our digital business. This is due to the subscription revenue from TV 2 PLAY but also the advertising product addressable TV, which is targeted advertising on our streaming service. Addressable TV offers advertisers new, digital opportunities to complement their traditional advertising campaigns with targeted advertising to the streaming audience. TV 2 has just teamed up with other providers in Denmark to raise the level of documentation, so advertisers and agencies get a better understanding of their advertising investment.

DR has been forced to cut both staff and production hours. TV 2 has been on the safe side in terms of government decisions in the past years. You recently got a new Cabinet. Do you expect any change of media policies?
TV 2 operates within framework conditions, which have enabled us to fulfill our public service obligations and at the same time ensure a healthy, commercial business. We look forward to work with the new Minister of Culture and to the dialogue about TV 2’s framework conditions going forward.

How do you see the future of television?
I believe that TV will continue to thrive - the question is just how it is distributed and how it is consumed. The future will be exciting and challenging and I have a strong belief that TV 2 will continue as a key player in the Danish media market. I find that there is an important need for television – and especially public service television – to play a key role in the development of our society; as an opportunity to unify in an otherwise increasingly polarized society.
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