Swedish media group behind “Beck” and “Wallander” aims for bigger digital presence

Imagine a retired cross-country skier grappling with an Olympic medal-winning wrestler, playing tennis with a former grand slam winner, or ice-hockey with a Stanley Cup champ. How about a comedy featuring a fervent pastor who is assigned an ageing, small-town congregation? Or a game where players have to look at antiques and determine whether they are “trash” or “treasure”? Do they sound like great TV shows? To Bonnier AB, they did.

These became some of the most-watched TV shows from the last week in Sweden on channels belonging to Bonnier. They show that, in spite of the advance of global media companies such as Amazon and Netflix, there continues to be a good appetite for local content—as long as it’s available on convenient digital devices.

Which is why Bonnier just took a EUR 100 million loan from the European Investment Bank to develop advanced digital platforms, as well as to create Scandinavian content. “Our business is based on journalism, knowledge and telling really good stories—stories that attract many different types of consumers,” says Carl-Johan Bonnier, chairman of the company’s board. “That’s going to continue. But where and how our content reaches the consumer is increasingly on mobile platforms, and reaching them there means challenges for us, but also huge opportunities.”

The loan is backed by the Investment Plan for Europe’s European Fund for Strategic Investments, which finances projects in key areas, in particular innovation.

Digital media with more snow

“As more and more people speak English, language is not a real barrier in Scandinavia to watching internationally produced content,” says Anders Bohlin, deputy economic adviser in the digital economy projects division at the EIB. “But people still want to see local talent and not only Hollywood stars. They want to see shows in local settings: settings with more nature, perhaps more snow—harsher settings.”

Bohlin, a native of Sundsvall, a small town on the coast of the Baltic Sea, says you can easily tell if a crime drama is, in fact, shot in Sweden by the shade of light.

digital media gets a boost from EFSI investment
Bonnier's digital media includes connections to Scandinavian favourites like Astrid Lindgren

The recent international success of Swedish-produced TV shows indicate Swedes are not the only ones to appreciate the creative endeavours of their productions, thus creating potential for export as well. Bonnier Group-produced “Beck”, a detective series of the “Scandinavian noir” genre, is being broadcast on BBC in the UK and is popular in Germany.

Digital media is a far cry from Bonnier’s origins. The company started 200 years ago as a book publisher and built a tremendous list of authors that included Nobel Prize-winner Selma Lagerlöf and playwright August Strindberg. With print revenues declining, especially in print advertising, media companies need to make sure they build their digital revenues. Bonnier is targeting 50% of its revenues from digital sources by 2020, up from a predicted 20% this year. This would include audiobooks and e-books, digital news and magazines, online broadcasting and video, e-learning and other online services.

Bonnier and chill

With people everywhere enjoying increasingly convenient access to digital content, global media producers operating with economies of scale are also gaining local audiences who had previously been confined to the choices on their TV sets. In fact, just this week, Netflix announced it is planning to produce local shows in Poland. The response from some local media companies is to shift focus to areas such as online classifieds. But Bonnier is betting that media still can be a profitable business, provided you give customers what they’re looking for—and on the platforms they prefer.