Arte has had a strong Nordic flavour these last few months with the premiere of the Danish shows Follow the Money season 3 in March, followed by Ride Upon the Storm season 2 in May, while the Danish/German/Belgium co-production The Team season 2 is currently playing.

The public service channel will continue to offer Nordic suspense, thought-provoking and entertaining shows in the upcoming months, notably with the re-release of the cult series The Killing - seasons 1-2-3 this summer, to be followed later by DNA co-produced with TV2 Denmark, the acquisitions Darkness-Those Who Kill (Viaplay) and A Wedding, Funeral and a Christening (TV4/C More).

Alexandre Piel, Deputy Head of Drama at Arte Fiction France, in charge of foreign acquisitions and co-productions discusses with us his upcoming Nordic slate and drama strategy.

Firstly, could you remind us of the special collaboration that Arte has nurtured over the last decade with Nordic creators and broadcasters?
Alexandre Piel:
Our drama lineup for our Thursday primetime slot has for many years, relied on content from three geographical areas: France, the UK and the Nordics. The Killing, Borgen, Real Humans, and Ride Upon the Storm have been landmark shows and contributed to defining ARTE’s DNA.

Nordic drama has been crucial to us both in terms of success and editorial choices. From the beginning, we’ve realised that Nordic series are a perfect fit to what Arte stands for: creativity, diversity and innovation. They combine character-driven stories, with social/political issues and entertainment. They often promote values of democracy and humanism that are at the heart of Arte and appropriate for younger and more mature audiences.

Therefore it’s been very natural for us to acquire, then pre-buy and co-produce Nordic TV drama and I’ve been doing this since I joined the channel seven years ago.

Would you say that sticking to this tradition and long-time relationships with Nordic producers and broadcasters is all the more important today, considering the acute competition from bigger players like Netflix that has commissioned for instance the new Borgen?
AP: Yes. We are sticking to our mantra which is to explore new horizons, consolidate our relationships with our foreign partners - including from the Nordics - and keep up to date to what they are doing. We get involved on a case by case, and are open to new alliances.

In the Nordics, we’ve co-produced with DR, TV2 Denmark, TV2 Norway, NRK, RÚV and have done acquisitions from SVT and C More/TV4 Sweden. With Viaplay, we coproduced the series Occupied season 2 and have acquired Darkness-Those Who Kill.

Going ahead, we’re gradually widening our geographical footprint to Southern Europe, looking at Eastern Europe and other countries at the same time.

In terms of genre, crime seems to be still an integral part of your drama slate, but a show like Colin Nutley’s A Wedding, Funeral and a Christening is definitely more light comedy than Nordic noir…
AP: Yes, but this is where we are in terms of drama. While keeping crime - with successful brands such as The Sandhamn Murders - we try to explore new genres, like comedy, or different shades of crime. Olivier Wotling [Arte Head of Drama], does the same on the French side, exploring the variety of genre, the diversity of storytelling.

Last time you mentioned your drama strategy, you said your goal is to co-produce 2-3 series a year. Is this still the case?
AP: Actually we have increased our volume, with four co-productions this year: Anna a coproduction with Sky Italia, Hierro season 2 with Moviestar in Spain, the French/German mini-series Alger Confidential with ZDF, and the Nordic shows Blackport with RÚV Iceland and Countrymen with NRK.

For 2021-2022 we have six co-productions in the pipeline: one from Belgium, one from Italy, one from Israel and probably three from the Nordics.  

Could you tell us when and why you boarded the upcoming series Blackport [produced by Vesturport] and Countrymen [produced by Rubicon TV]?
AP: We heard about the two series at a very early stage. The sooner the better for us. With Blackport, I was convinced from the very first pitch by co-creator/actor Gísli Örn Garðarsson back in 2017 at Scandinavian Screenings. His idea of doing something very local and personal, about the fishing industry in Iceland was totally fresh. A clever way to understand Iceland through a personal story.

Then we met the whole creative team at Vesturport, and Skarphéðinn Guðmundsson from RÚV. We connected and felt we were speaking the same language. When this happens, things are transparent, open-minded, it’s the best collaboration ever.

With Countrymen, I first heard about it in 2018 through producer and co-creator Anne Björnstad [Rubicon TV Head of Drama, co-writer of Beforeigners] and NRK’s commissioning editor Tone Rønning. I instantly loved Anne’s idea, and as a producer of Lilyhammer I knew she could pull it off. We’ve been involved since the beginning in the writing process, giving our feedback. But I can’t really discuss the series and I know that Rubicon and NRK want to communicate carefully about the show which will be very surprising to audiences.

Follow the Money 3 premiered in March on Arte. How did it perform, and what convinced you to acquire only the third season?
AP: The first two seasons were a bit too classical for us and season 3 is actually a standalone/spin off. It’s more character-driven and ambitious than the first two seasons. It turned out as a wonderful experience.

The show attracted 3.2 million online viewers and 627,000 average linear viewers and 2.9% share. The share was perhaps slightly under the Arte average, but then, the online audience on was huge. It corresponds to a new phenomenon for us that has been growing since last year, with online viewers outperforming traditional linear viewing.

This is something many Nordic broadcasters are experiencing as well, such as NRK with their hit series Exit
AP: Yes Scandinavia is often ahead of us, in terms of viewership habits and shift from linear to digital. In the bigger territories like France, or Germany, changes take longer to arrive.

Does this shift impact the way you programme and commission the shows?
Not yet, but we’re working on that. In the near future, we will experience new distribution routes by experimenting for instance with non-linear launches first, or having a long non-linear exploitation during which we’ll do a linear release as well.

Has Covid-19 impacted your programming and the delivery of some projects?
AP: As public broadcaster, we’ve been less affected by Covid-19 than advertising-dependent broadcasters. That said, on the short term, we’ve been affected by shootings that were interrupted or postponed both on the French and international side, and we’ve had to replace holes in our programming grid. These have been very busy times for us all.

In our daily life, for a small channel like Arte that doesn’t belong to any alliance, it’s tough with competitors who are aggressively acquiring bold and ambitious TV shows from Scandinavia and elsewhere. We have to adjust, think differently strategically about acquisition.

Would you like to say something specific to Nordic producers or broadcasters?
AP: We have limited number of slots for TV drama on Arte, but we are always actively looking for bold, new stories. I would say to producers -take your time to conceive projects and let them mature.

For broadcasters, I’d say - be open to playing the same game as we’ve been doing for several years at Arte, which is to come onboard projects that have nothing French or German. Besides, the quality of French shows has risen dramatically.

We are also trying to get foreign broadcasters to co-produce our projects to raise our ambitions. I am confident this will happen in 2021. It will be a new step in our co-production efforts in Europe.