Ani Korpela / PHOTO: EV

Elisa Viihde’s Ani Korpela:”We want to encourage risk taking and attract talent”

The major independent streaming service and key partner to Finnish producers, has widened its content offer since its partnership with Viaplay in June 2020.

The entertainment streaming service Elisa Viihde Viaplay - part of the Finnish telco group Elisa, with a footprint in Finland and Estonia - has been acquiring feature films since 2010 and started to invest in original TV series four years later.

Since then, the group has become a key partner to Finnish producers, as explained by Ilkka Matila, co-founder of the production powerhouse MRP Matila Röhr Production, whose hit series All the Sins S1-2-3 was ordered by the Finnish streamer. “Elisa Viihde has had a tremendous impact on the development of the Finnish TV drama industry during the past five years. It has been a vital financier and a reliable partner for creating more ambitious drama series. Moreover, it has revitalised the competition among the Finnish channels, which have also increased their spending on drama series,” he said.

The group invests in around 7 Finnish TV series a year and acquires local films, either from producers or other distributors. Recent acquisitions include Juho Kuosmanen’s Compartment No6, Zaida Bergroth’s Tove. On the TV side, Elisa Viihde’s drama Mister8 which aired on its service earlier this year, picked up two awards - Best long running series-and Best Actor - at the last Canneseries Festival in Cannes.

We sat down with the company’s Chief Content Officer Ani Korpela and Executive Producer Laura Kuulasmaa to discuss the group’s strategy and vision in today’s fiercely competitive streaming market. (Kuulasmaa is set to leave Elisa Viihde to join Audiovisual Producers Finland November 1s).

How do you commission originals?
Ani Korpela: Our executive producers are responsible for commissioning Elisa Viihde original series, working closely with story editors and writers and producers, from conception to premiere. Currently we are hiring a new Executive Producer and a Head of Programming.

What is your market-share among streamers in Finland, since you teamed up with Viaplay?
AK: None of the players share their numbers publicly. Elisa Viihde Viaplay is a jointly operated streaming service of Elisa and NENT Group, and we bring a unique content offering to our audience: about 50 original series and movies yearly (this year seven of them are of Finnish origin), kids programmes, and on top of that, Nordic and international originals from Nent.

Has this alliance changed the way you commission projects?
Laura Kuulasmaa: Not much, as we complement Viaplay’s content offering. We have focused more on drama, less on comedy, perhaps. But we do quite a bit of drama comedy as well.
AK: The whole content is definitely wider. But the alliance hasn’t necessarily impacted our commissioning of Finnish originals.

How has the streaming frenzy impacted your offer, current and future strategy?
AK: Competition is fiercer. There is no denial. It is meaningful for us to find the best partners, interesting stories to tell. We are concentrating on premium quality productions. We are differentiating ourselves in this way. Quality is first.

LK: We focus our efforts on the writing space and work closely with the writers in early development all the way through to delivery.

Producer Jani Pösö said you agreed to board his series Mister8 at idea stage…
LK: Usually we come in at development stage, then greenlight the production when we’re sure we’re making the same story and we’re ready to greenlight the project.

With Mister8 they [Jani Pösö and director Teemu Nikki] came with the preliminary concept. We entered at development stage and proceeded with production.


Elisa Viihde’s Ani Korpela:”We want to encourage risk taking and attract talent”

MISTER8 / PHOTO: Its Alive Films, Jari Salo

How do you play with windows and how flexible are you?
AK: We obviously have the first window for our original series. But then, we do partner with local broadcasters. We don’t have a set model. It’s on a case by case basis.

What is your overall budget for scripted drama?
AK: With the cultural footprint of nearly €40 million in 2020, Elisa Viihde is one of the most significant supporters of Finnish series and movies. Elisa Viihde is also one of the biggest commissioners and exporters of Finnish drama with +25 original series premiered to date, sold to +50 countries.

In terms of genre, what is your focus?
AK: We want to tell meaningful and topical stories and we look for ideas and concepts that demonstrate value, quality and originality.
LK: We are experimenting with different forms and genres, doing for example mini-series or short form drama, such as Bull by the Horns. It’s an 8 x 20’ drama based on a classic book from the 80s, the story is brought to the 2020s. It is both for young audiences and the 35+ audience with a nostalgic factor, made by young talent. We have another half an hour drama coming out in 2023 called Are We Still Us, produced by Making Movies.

Any plan to expand into documentaries?
LK: Viaplay has 10 original documentary series in their pipeline for 2021 so we will have them on the service.

How active are you in promoting new talent?
LK: We try to give them assignments on our shows, working next to more experienced people, so that they can grow. As we want high quality, we need experienced people involved, and having young people alongside. We are looking for fresh voices.

Diversity/sustainability-How crucial are these for you?
LK: We have focused on this for a few years already. We always discuss representation on screen. For example in Bull by the Horns, the main character is non-binary. It used to be a boy/girl story. Regarding sustainability, there is a new system in place -Albert. Production companies are careful how they produce in an eco-friendly manner.

AK: We pay attention to diversity both behind and front of the camera to ensure diversity of stories are told.

On the feature film side, how big is your slate?
LK: We’ve had 19 new features this year. The window when theatres were open was so short last year due to covid so now we had 5 big movie premieres in Elisa Viihde Viaplay within a month including Forest Giant, Tove, Ricky Rapper and the Wrong Vincent, Games People Play and Eden.

What is the usual window between theatrical and Elisa Viihde Viaplay?
LK: It’s usually 10-12 months. But it also depends on the film and on the deal. Sometimes it can be 6 months.

Are you thinking of increasing your co-productions?
LK: Our shows are always made primarily for the local audience, with an international potential in mind.

AK: ...and Elisa Viihde original series have already been sold to 50 countries, some of them being co-productions.

LK: We’re happy that our shows such as Mister8 is with Federation Entertainment and Keshet International has just picked up Pillowtalk, produced by Solar Republic. They have Summer of Sorrow as well. It’s currently in post-production.


Elisa Viihde’s Ani Korpela:”We want to encourage risk taking and attract talent”

Man In Room 301 / PHOTO: Apc

Then APC [About Premium Content] is handling Man in Room 301 and the two seasons of Shadow Lines. Lagardere Distribution has Arctic Circle S1 & S2 and Bad Apples, Red Arrow has a comedy series from us called Californian Commando, whilst NBCU is distributing All the Sins S1-3, Bullets and Banijay Rights has the drama comedy Idiomatic.

What is coming up among TV series?
LK: The second season of the comedy series Mother-in-Paw by Aito Media will be released Nov 1st, Arctic Circle S2 is coming in December. TOPIC has pre-bought it for North America. Then in January we have Next of Kin (A&E), a near-sci-fi drama about genetic manipulation.

Any plan to expand outside Finland and Estonia?
AK: Currently those are the countries where we have entertainment services.

Ideally where would you like to be in two years?
AK: We seek for value, quality and originality. We love unique and rewarding concepts that challenge the imagination, storytelling that brings new angles even to more traditional genres. We want to encourage risk taking and to create an environment that attracts creative talent.


Elisa Viihde’s Ani Korpela:”We want to encourage risk taking and attract talent”

Laura Kuulasmaa / PHOTO: Mojo Erämetsä