Nordic Thoughts on the Digital Future

THINK TANK. Even though Scandinavians speak the same kind of strange languages that no one else understand and share ideals about public support systems, we're terrible at buying tickets to each other's films. The new Scandinavian Think Tank convened in December to discuss the reality behind a disappointingly meagre Nordic market and to discover new ways ahead. Report by moderator Michael Gubbins from the meeting in Copenhagen.

In Scandinavia, business and policymakers have been trying to deal with longstanding problems in supporting sustainable film businesses, capable of making and distributing the kind of films that can reach audiences across national boundaries.

The Scandinavian Think Tank is in part a response to a sense of crisis that needs a resolute and joint response.

Scandinavian Think Tank

The Scandinavian Think Tank (7-8 December 2010) was organised by the European Think Tank on Film and Film Policy and headed by director Henning Camre and is the first "cluster" Think Tank addressing the specific issues of countries that have more in common than what divides them. The Think Tank was financed by the Film Institutes of Denmark, Norway and Sweden and the Nordic Film and Television Foundation. Film and Media Departments of Copenhagen, Oslo and Lund Universities provided substantial qualitative and quantitative research. 

Concerns ... and Some Optimism

Taking part in the event in December in Copenhagen was a 150-person strong range of filmmakers, industry players and policy-makers from across the region, and the task was threefold: to examine the state of today’s industry, to identify the challenges in a demand-driven digital economy, and to pinpoint a set of practical ideas on which to build a future strategy.

A theme often repeated during the two-day Think Tank as fundamental to any discussion about future strategies was that of the audience – not least emphasised by one keynote speaker, pioneering US indie producer Ted Hope, who stressed the fact that the relationship between producer, product and consumer is changing in a digital environment. The value of film will come more and more from engagement with audiences directly. In other words, the top-down traditional analogue system with its elongated value chain of specialist, small and medium-sized businesses needs a change of mindset, Hope reminded the audience.

Research studies on the Scandinavian market were presented, and these studies helped the delegates focus on the questions that are central to the debates – questions about the industry’s sustainability in a digital world, about the value of public policies and the quality of the films themselves.

The studies, focusing on films produced between 2002 and 2010, confirmed known areas of concern, particularly in reaching younger audiences and the films’ struggle to travel between territories. The most striking conclusions, though, were the worrying lack of business sustainability:

In Sweden 163 production companies were involved in 229 films, 118 companies only made one film. In Norway 140 directors made films, 100 of them only made one. In Denmark 115 screenwriters were engaged in writing, but 81 only wrote one script.

But there were reasons for optimism about some short-term opportunities. One area of research that was particularly promising came from a survey that suggested that consumers in Norway, Sweden and Denmark were prepared to pay a premium price (up to 25 euro) to watch a day-and-date release of a movie through a VOD channel in their own homes. And better still, the survey suggests that this interest would not be at the expense of theatrical release.

The same study showed that a strong majority of people in all three countries prefer to watch a film in the cinema and for the same basic reason that there the “experience” of the big-screen format remains a draw.

A Look at Tomorrow 

At the end of the Copenhagen Think Tank, consensus was reached around four main issues.

• First of all, the debates revealed clear synergies between the Scandinavian countries. Delegates identified a number of areas where formal and informal cross-border cooperation made far more sense than competition, for instance in shared initiatives between film schools and Film Institutes.

• Secondly, innovation was seen as a distinct problem for Scandinavia. Small countries with industries comprising mostly small and medium-sized businesses struggle to keep up with digital change, where scale does count. The Think Tank suggested work on creating a regional innovation fund.

• Thirdly, the challenges of a digital era call for collaboration with experts in other fields, including technologists and digital marketing experts. Digital change in film does

• And finally, the need to create sustainable businesses is one of the biggest challenges for public policy. There are no simple solutions and a divided industry has a variety of different interests. Nonetheless, current policies need reviewing.

The acid test, now, will be how the ideas turn into the foundations of a Scandinavian – and European – strategy for a digital future.

Michael Gubbins is an editor, journalist and consultant specialising in film and digital media.