In 2021, that roster looks set to expand beyond the realm of misremembered Nordic noir with a range of new shows on their way to Netflix – and a palette that ranges from sexy royals to a melodrama set in a drag club.
While the international streaming service has long hosted Scandinavian titles, a glut of original Swedish programming is now landing, with at least 10 major projects either recently added to its lineup or due in the coming months.
“There’s been a significant increase in the amount of work we’ve been doing with them over the last couple of years,” said Tim King, the head of film and TV production at Stockholm’s SF Studios. “It’s woken everyone up who dreamed of doing horror, sci-fi, anything. Suddenly there’s an outlet and somebody who’s willing to bet on it.”
Until 2019, Netflix had invested in just one Swedish original production, Quicksand, a Nordic noir about the aftermath of a school shooting.
In recent months, it has launched a dark romantic comedy series, Love & Anarchy, and will soon add additional Swedish titles with the kind of algorithmic magic that could make them staples of Britain’s locked-down living rooms.
Young Royals, a coming of age tale about a dashing prince, is likely to attract those missing The Crown, while SF Studios’ dark, high-concept thriller Red Dot, about a couple on a camping trip who find themselves fleeing a mysterious sniper, may remind others of the 2018 hit Bird Box.
Should viewers get a taste for Swedes, the Netflix prediction machine will have plenty of other content to offer, including the teen romance Vinterviken 2021, SF’s gangster caper Snabba Cash, and the drag/dance romp Dancing Queens. There’s even a documentary about Stockholm’s native tech success, Spotify. (Noir habits die hard, admittedly: another recent addition was Young Wallander.)
As well as being good news for local producers, Netflix’s bet is evidence of the distorting effects that its interventions can have: production companies are shifting their resources away from traditional local outlets and towards an international audience, budgets are growing across the board, and there is even a possible crew shortage.
“The thing I keep hearing is that it is harder than ever to get good people behind the camera – cinematographers, productions designers and so forth,” said Mattias Bergqvist, the chief TV critic for the Swedish newspaper Expressen. “But I see that as a good thing – more people are getting more experience and the opportunity to develop. There’s a new energy.”
But a Swedish TV executive sounded a more nervous note. “Everybody wants Swedish content on the map so of course we hope it’s good,” they said. “What we don’t know yet is whether they’re going to make the pie bigger, or just eat the whole thing.”
Lina Brouneus, the director of co-productions and acquisitions at Netflix, said the company was “competitive, but growing the market, so I think it’s good – it allows some new voices to come out”.
One UK-based Netflix executive suggested the shift was part of a larger bet on non-English language content across Europe prompted by a series of successes in 2017-18. “We realised that a lot of that content was really working, and we leaned in very hard,” they said. “There was a step-change increase in spending.”
Such investment was not necessarily made with local audiences in mind, they added. “The Nordics’ strategy is basically … people in the region don’t love Nordic content. But it exports really well.”
The effects of that investment more broadly are already becoming visible, with global viewing of non-English titles doubling in 2020 against 2019, Netflix said.
“We’re going to keep producing that Hollywood content,” said Brouneus. “But only about 5% of the world’s population has English as their native language, and so even though English-language content tends to dominate, we think there’s huge potential in that discrepancy.”
One advantage for Sweden, said King, was that “we’re actually relatively low-cost” for shows that had proven appeal around the world. “We’re significantly cheaper than the UK or the US, and we’re not quite competing on that level but I would say we’re around there. The bang for your buck is pretty good.”
King said the sheer scale of Netflix’s audience could be transformative even for a producer such as SF, the “grand old lady of Swedish cinema”.
“With Red Dot, we looked at it for a cinematic release, but we decided no, it’s too high risk, it’s too small a niche – we’ll lose money on this thing. And so when Netflix came in and said ‘what have you got that’s different?’, we said this. What Netflix does is they find that niche everywhere in the world.”