In the Nordic countries everything always starts with “Nordic Noir”. Its popularity has grown unparalleled and has embraced markets such as literature, cinema and television series. Its essence has captivated millions of viewers around the world. This is one of the keys to the success of this platform of Nordic origin, but as they themselves say; that is only the beginning.
We offer you an interview with one of the most important VOD/OTT platforms in Europe. Viaplay was forged in countries such as Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland and today it has already expanded to Poland and the Baltic countries. Its growth plans include other European countries such as England or Germany and, in addition, they want to cross the great sea to reach the coasts of Canada. Quantity and quality come together in this platform that aspires to be seen by twelve million users.
How was Viaplay born?
Mikael Svensson, SVP Strategy & Expansion: Viaplay is a streaming pioneer and has been leading innovation in this space for 15 years. We first launched back in 2007 – the same year as the very first iPhone – when we saw that streaming was fast becoming the future of entertainment.
In 2014, with the market accelerating rapidly, we took the bold decision to double down on our investment. The know-how and experience we’ve gathered every day since then give us a great advantage and are a big reason why, today, we have one of the most robust and scalable streaming platforms in the business.
How has it developed through the years?
Urban Löfbom, Product & Platform Manager, Content Platform: As streaming has evolved and become a mainstream entertainment option, it’s only natural for viewers continuously to expect even more from us. I don’t just mean content, but the whole experience of using Viaplay. The development of the platform reflects that.
For example, we’ve devoted considerable time and resources to making it easy for users to find something they want to watch. This becomes more important every day, as the amount of choice is growing so much. It has driven all sorts of frontend and backend improvements that combine seamlessly for an intuitive user experience. Arguably one of our biggest achievements is Viaplay’s personalisation features. Our advanced algorithm processes your viewing history (and not just what you’ve watched, but what you started but never finished…) and matches it with titles deemed to be of interest for you (i.e. from the same genre or director as a title you liked, or featuring some of the same actors).
We’re now taking global steps with Viaplay. This requires us to re-think some of the technical choices we made years ago, as our viewer base and the demands on our platform are changing considerably. It’s a really exciting time and we’re looking forward to enabling viewers in many more countries to experience Viaplay.
What is Viaplay’s business model?
Mikael Svensson: Viaplay has two principal customer offerings that we adapt based on the market. In the Nordic and Baltic regions, Poland and soon the Netherlands, we have a broad offering that combines premium live sports, award-winning Viaplay Originals, Hollywood films and series, and kids’ content. In the US, where we launched on 15 December, and in the UK from the second half of 2022, Viaplay is more of a specialised service focused on ‘the best of the Nordics’, meaning Viaplay Originals and high-quality films and series from additional Nordic providers.
What makes Viaplay different from other OTT / VOD platforms?
Örjan Åberg, Solutions Architect, Streaming Experience: There are many factors that set us apart, both from a technical and content perspective. I think the most obvious one is the breadth of our offering – nobody else has the combination of content that’s available on Viaplay.
For example, we premiered more than 50 Viaplay Originals in 2021 and are aiming for over 60 in 2022. Our original storytelling has won prizes around the world – including a Best Series win for our drama series ‘Partisan’ at Canneseries – and we work with some of the biggest talents in the Nordic region and Hollywood to bring viewers experiences that just aren’t available anywhere else. That’s alongside long-term partnerships with many of the major Hollywood studios.
Alongside that, we hold top-tier sports rights like the Premier League, Formula 1 and NHL among others. These big international rights are balanced by attractive local sports content – we recently took over the FIS winter sports rights in Sweden, Norway and Finland and have launched our own Viaplay Winter Studio, featuring expert coverage of events like cross-country and Alpine skiing which are household favourites in the Nordics. In fact, we’re well on the way to showing 100,000 live hours of sports every year, which makes us a global leader in this area.
What criteria do you use to choose the titles you offer on your platform?
Louise Faerch VP, Viafree & Viaplay Programming: We have a large, dedicated team working with our content across different areas – from acquisition and distribution deals and overseeing production of our Viaplay Originals, to curating our local sites, working strategically with acquired titles and extracting insights from viewing data.
For Viaplay Originals, we focus on telling unique stories and capturing local interest in each of our markets. For acquired content, we work with key long-term partners to secure rights for exclusive series and movie premieres, popular franchises and the latest theatrical releases.
Across all our content, we always take into account market trends and performance data. We consider what content can appeal to audiences, both current and potential (i.e. in new markets or new age groups), according to our demographic research and focus groups. Seasonality is also an important factor, since we want to offer titles that feed into campaigns throughout the year – including Christmas classics, Valentine’s Day rom-coms and Halloween horror movies, for example.
It’s important to say that we take a holistic view of what’s on Viaplay, and that we are committed to representing the varied interests, experiences and cultures of both viewers and content creators. We want to leave no story left untold, so on- and off-screen representation is a top priority for us.
What market challenges does your platform face?
Örjan Åberg: Our ambitious international expansion means we need to scale up Viaplay to deal with a greater volume of content, customers and locally scheduled events. We’re constantly improving the performance and reach of our service for all our customers, and the complexity of this task increases the further we go beyond the Nordic region.
As Viaplay becomes available in new markets, many more customers will use our service. We must also handle more volatile viewing patterns, with high-profile sports like Formula 1 expected to attract a huge surge in customers on race day (especially in the Netherlands when fan favourite and homegrown talent Max Verstappen gets behind the wheel). It’s our job to ensure a high-quality stream from start to finish for all our customers, wherever they might be. So, naturally, we are collaborating closely with local operators and infrastructure partners. These are all challenges, but they can just as easily be framed as opportunities.
Scaling our Product, Data & Tech organization is also key to unlocking this potential and staying ahead of the pack. We have invested heavily in our development team in Stockholm and intend to continue to do so. Recruiting the right developers, designers and data analysts can be competitive, but we are always open to knowledgeable, motivated people joining us on our exciting expansion journey.
What is the cloud platform that hosts Viaplay? What services does it offer to you?
Urban Löfbom: We have a partnership with AWS that allows us to scale to millions of customers in multiple markets without having to build our own data centres. We use EC2 for scalable instance hosting; DynamoDB, RDS and S3 for state and persistence; and Lambda for short running and on-demand tasks. While there are some common services in AWS, we also trust our development teams to choose what will help meet their vision.
How much of your content is broadcast in HD or 4K? Are there plans to continue growing in this aspect?
Örjan Åberg: We currently run selected sports events in 4K in the Nordic region, with all other content in full HD quality. Our plan is to incorporate more 4K content on Viaplay – definitely something to keep an eye out for!
What are your international growth goals?
Mikael Svensson: Last year we successfully launched in the three Baltic countries, Poland and the US. We will launch in the Netherlands on 1 March, with a very competitive sports rights portfolio, including Formula 1, PDC Darts, Bundesliga, and later also adding Premier League football, together with our broad content offering, and during the second half of 2022 we’re coming to the UK. In 2023 we’re also adding Canada, Germany, Austria and Switzerland to the list of countries. In total, we’re targeting 12 million subscribers by 2025, of which 6 million will be in the Nordic region and 6 million internationally. With the increasing number of subscribers, we will naturally also continue expanding our content catalogue as well as sports rights portfolio.
The multimedia content market is growing a lot and the offer is huge for the viewer, what do you think the future of OTT / VOD platforms will be like?
Mikael Svensson: We believe the “stacking” behaviour we see today will increase with even more subscriptions per household. Our guess is that most of us will have a mix of well-established large services, combined with smaller, niche offerings based on regions or special interests.
It is also evident that viewers are increasingly receptive to content in languages other than English. We’ve seen this ourselves with the global popularity of ‘Nordic noir’ drama. This is a game-changer for our industry, and shows that Viaplay’s expansion strategy is the right one.
It’s now possible for a Nordic company to evolve into a global streaming player, and for our unique combination of local content and international sports rights to reach viewers in many new markets. Like we often say, Nordic noir is just the beginning!