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The New8 Initiative: K7 in conversation with NRK’s Hans-Jørgen Osnes

A new European content collaboration – New8 – was announced at MIA (Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo) in Rome in October. The co-production venture brings together eight public service broadcasters from Northwestern Europe. The partners include ZDF (Germany), NPO (The Netherlands), VRT (Belgium), SVT (Sweden), DR (Denmark), YLE (Finland), RÚV (Iceland) and NRK (Norway). In an initial three-year agreement, the group will co-produce eight local TV series annually from 2023, ensuring a broad distribution of each other’s projects.

New8 in essence expands on an already existing trust-based Nordic collaboration. The Nordic public service broadcasters have, for years, co-produced their best dramas, with each broadcaster putting forward their best productions to be distributed by their neighbours.

In a similar fashion, each partner in New8 will put forward a project to co-produce under the New8 umbrella. The series selected will then be broadcast in each region as well as German speaking territories Austria, and Switzerland. The first eight projects, greenlit in 2023, will be made available in all participating territories from 2025.

“New8 is a unique achievement for European public service broadcasters and their audiences. New8 with the strong drama partners attached, will be the largest drama collaboration in Europe. It will be extremely exciting to see it come to life and evolve.”

In an exclusive interview, K7’s Senior Research Manager Patti Linnett discusses the New8 initiative with the man who brought it to fruition, Hans-Jørgen Osnes, Head of International Financing Drama at NRK.

To kick things off, it would be great if you could explain your role in making ‘New8’ happen?

Of course. I’m head of international financing of drama at NRK. I work with all the dramas that NRK produces where we see potential for international financing. The New8 initiative came from NRK and I have been the one who has constructed it all, bringing partners together and being present in all of the negotiations. However, it is a very big setup and a hugely collective project with involvement on every level. From heads of drama and heads of acquisition, to strategy teams and all of the lawyers and communications staff – more than 70 in total!

Being an entirely public broadcaster-formed collaboration, what role do public broadcasters play in the current world of scripted TV?

I think we have an important role towards democracy and telling stories about democracy in Europe. We are very fortunate that, in Europe, public service broadcasters hold such a strong position. We are able to mirror society, reflect on it and ask questions on how our society is functioning. And this is a very important factor. Because of our financing model there is, of course, a strong obligation to tell important stories that matter to the public. That is our main objective and it’s extremely important for us – as public service broadcasters – to try and establish a way of doing that in the best possible way.

"...it's about being a sustainable partner for the industry. We are public service, we are here to stay, and we need to find a way to fulfil that remit."

Because all partners in the New8 share that same remit, do you think it was easier to create this production partnership?

I think that there are similarities, although the differences are also there. I do think our shared remit is a crucial part of what made it all possible. I think that that all the broadcasters feel that same obligation towards society. And of course, that has helped in putting this collaboration together.

Who was the first to join the New8?

The New8 is based on the Nordic 12, which is a collaboration where by we co-produce 12 drama productions between the Nordic countries. It’s the vision of the Nordic model of collaboration and co-production that we’ve had established for 6 years already. The New8 started with the Nordics, of course, and as we are partners in the N12 that was the natural starting point.

We were quite certain of the territories that we wanted to be involved and what we thought might be possible and then we took it from there. But it has been a long process. From when we first started to construct the model to present day, it has taken a good two years to get it off the ground. I think it was first presented to the Nordic broadcasters in November 2021.

So quite a lengthy process?

Yes, partly because of the number of partners involved. You have to take into account that the broadcasters have a lot of different strategies and that there are differences between the broadcasters too – it’s quite complex. But everyone shared the same objective: to tell important stories. Everyone agreed the end goal – it resonated with everyone- and the rest of the time was spent finessing the model.

Is the hope to challenge the international dominance of global streamers, or do the end projects occupy a different TV ecosystem?

When construction began that was our main objective: to stand strong against the streamers. The competition was a challenge to public service broadcasters everywhere. Some broadcasters were doing collaborations with the streamers on projects, but it was the ability to stand together and to try to find a structure of working that ultimately made us stronger. This has changed over the course of time and it’s much more different now from when we started out. To quote the Head of Drama at SVT, Anna Cronemann, when we first launched the collaboration in Rome, we faced some challenging competition, but in the end it’s more about being a sustainable partner for the industry. We are public service, we are here to stay, and we need to find a way to fulfil that remit.

"There’s a wide variety of different shows. Some projects are huge and some are smaller in terms of budget, but there’s a good bouquet of different stories. There’s no specific genre, either. They only need to be high-end drama – that is an important aspect."

Do you know already what kind of stories they’re going to tell?

Yes, we know what stories we have and the stories for the first year are all in place. We’ll reveal all at the end of the month at Content London. We have a panel on Tuesday 28 November at noon where we’ll present the first wave of projects. While I can’t give too much away now, the stories are varied and they are all stories with clear pubcaster DNA. Aimed at targeting 18–45-year-olds, they’re all ambitious projects that shed light on issues of importance. Following the announcement, they’ll be rolled out individually, depending on production schedules.

Are they very different, spanning many genres?

Very different. There’s a wide variety of different shows. Some projects are huge and some are smaller in terms of budget, but there’s a good bouquet of different stories. There’s no specific genre, either. They only need to be high-end drama – that is an important aspect.

Were local creators given a free rein, other than the public service broadcaster remit?

The way it works is the heads of drama choose a project they feel will work for them and for the other partners. It is still part of the normal slate, it’s not that these projects will be any different. But it will be a local project and then a head of drama decides if this a New8 project. But apart from that, they are not specifically constructed to fit the model. These are the projects that every head of drama feels is the right project for this coproduction and that works for the other partners. It is based on trust and the other partners accept that without veto.

Hits like Exit, and Thin Blue Line have spawned from previous collaborative partnerships. Have there been lessons learned from those collaborations that are informing the New8?

I think we’ve learned in the Nordics that it’s not always easy to see on a script level, what project will work. For the Heads of Drama, choosing the projects, because they know the creators they know what the show will be, they understand what the project will become. For someone from the outside, from another broadcaster purely reading the scripts, it’s not always easy to see that this will really work. There are several examples of skepticism – people questioning whether a project could work in other territories and then it did. Because knowing the creators, local commissioners can say we really think this is a strong pitch and we would like to present it to you. We’ve learnt from the Nordic 12 where titles have been surprising and they’ve really worked in other territories despite earlier doubt. And that is an important aspect of this. It’s a trust-based relationship.

Because part of the financing will come into place quite quickly, it gives local creators more time to work on the creative side and heighten the series rather than having to spend too much or take too long getting the financing in place.

Does the partnership create a greater window of opportunity for European series to be seen more widely? And will it help to create more of an appetite for European drama elsewhere?

I think it will. The quality of production in Europe is really high and a lot of them travel, though in some cases good shows don’t travel. We hope we can make these projects accessible. In this collaboration, everyone is working in their mother tongue so most series are produced in the local language. Subtitles are becoming increasingly accepted and international drama is travelling more, thanks in large part to the streamers. We hope this is something we’ll see even more in Europe and that more of the good quality dramas being made get substantial distribution and are seen more widely.

It does feel there are many great dramas across Europe that don’t find the big audience that maybe they deserve.
We hope this will open up to greater and wider distribution and that it will become a new way of production. With so much competition, we need to see how we can work together and find solutions. Those partners in New8, we’re not really competitors as we’re all in our different countries. We’re all allies, it will benefit us all in the long run to pool our resources and knowledge.

Is New8 limited to eight?

For now it is New8 and it is eight productions and these eight broadcasters with a three-year framework. But, of course, this is something we would need to investigate further. It depends on the financing of everyone because if you open to one more it has implications on everyone. We now need to make it work and prove that it works. Then we will see if or how we can open it up. There is interest but first we need to give it a bit of time. Bear in mind that we have built this as a trust-based collaboration where there is no veto.

In terms of the series produced, if they travel outside of the eight, could they potentially go on streamers?

The producers have the freedom to choose who is their international distributor and where it lands. The New8 have an exclusive and non-exclusive window. Outside of that, series can be sold by any of the international distributors, it’s in the producer’s hands. I am certain that the productions will travel, but where to will differ depending on who is submitting the series internationally.

On the more financial side of things, what kind of structure is in place and how much security does the collaboration add to development?

The development side of the project is on the broadcasters at their expense, when the production goes to a greenlight from the main broadcaster the New8 come in with co-production contribution LOCs. The partners investment is based on the population of their country. And that is how we can make small and big countries work within the model because it is dependent on the population size. Price per episode is pre-negotiated.

To focus in on Norway before we finish, the Edinburgh TV Festival featured a lot of talk about cuts in financing and dips in commissioning quotas, is it a similar situation in Norway?

In Norway, we’ve had major cutbacks last year and this year, and so have several other of the Nordic partners. But we need to try and not cut back on drama because drama is important to mirror our society to our audience and a driving force for a lot of broadcasters. A premium exiting drama can bring people in and help them find other content as a result.

There’s loads of really great Norwegian series, particularly comedy and dramedies, that haven’t travelled widely. Do you think there’s a reason for that?

I think that comedy could be too local, and that could make it difficult to travel across borders. In some cases, it maybe works better as a format. Because the writing is local, and the comedy is in the delivery it sometimes doesn’t work with subtitles in the same way as drama.

Are there any Norwegian series you think are really great and would work internationally that buyers should look at? Any shoutouts?

Some series strangely aren’t picked up like the kids series Zombielars. It did extremely well for us, but it is a bit scary and some broadcasters might think the youth won’t understand it. Then there’s series like Saving The F*****g Planet. It’s like a Romeo and Juliet story set in the north of Norway following a young unemployed man who worked in the mines who falls in love with a young Sámi climate activist. The mines are to reopen and this will exploit the untouched nature where her family’s reindeer herds are. So of course, it’s an impossible love story. And the family doesn’t accept that she’s in love with this Norwegian outsider. An age-old story transported to Norway’s scenic high north tackling issues relevant to young people, it definitely has potential to travel widely.


Zombielars is produced by Tordenfilm for NRK Super. Distributed by Global Screen.

Saving The F*****g Planet is produced by Fenomen TV Film & Scene for NRK. Distributed by Beta Film.

Patti Linnett

Patti joined K7 in the spring of 2019 after graduating from the University of Leeds with a degree in History. As a researcher, Patti works closely on both the weekly European and North American Scripted reports as well as helping curate K7's monthly Scriptlist and contributing to bespoke projects for clients across both the scripted and unscripted space.

Outside of K7, Patti enjoys a good book, hiking in the lakes, socialising with friends and of course getting into the latest drama TV has to offer!