Television from Small Nations – Internationalisation

How big is ‘small’ in terms of a nation? And to what extent should size determine the value of a culture? Or should cultural value be kept separate from political clout? These questions matter increasingly in many arenas but on 16th November I spent a  day at the first of three University of South Wales workshops with people who address them in terms of tv. It was fascinating and inspiring.

I loved the trailer we were shown by the producer of Norskov, a new Nordic detective story set in a fictional regional town in Denmark. A cheerful character addresses a huge, jovial crowd:

“Some people say Norskov’s out on the edge. I guess they don’t know the world’s round!”

Roars of approval.


The centre is where you are, is the message. Because you matter. Your culture. Your place. Your language. You are the hub of the universe.

It’s a bold claim. It goes against the wisdom of the market yet the producers of Nordic Noir have succeeded in making the market work for them. And the Scandinavians are experimenting with other genres. At a recent BBC Trust seminar in Cardiff on BBC Charter review, producer Martyn Ingram declared, ” A confident nation needs a confident media.” This confidence is clearly in evidence in Scandinavian production. In Norskov ice hockey becomes a totemic symbol. Maybe in Wales it would be rugby. We care who wins because the human values we all recognise are dramatized powerfully.  And, importantly, there are plenty of women central to the plots.

The University of Wales’s Centre for Media and Culture in Small Nations has a number of media and cultural projects.  One of these is Television from Small Nations

This multidisciplinary, international research network addresses the specific challenges and opportunities facing television broadcasters and producers in small nations. For small nations the television industry performs a number of important cultural, political and economic functions: constructing cultural identities, contributing towards a democratic public sphere, and enabling minority-languages to thrive in the modern world.

However, several structural challenges shape their TV industries including less access to talent, fewer capital resources, higher production costs, and a smaller market for advertising and license fee revenue.

The network directly addresses these imperatives by drawing together academic experts and key stakeholders in the television industry, and enabling them to identify the necessary conditions for sustained success in both cultural and commercial terms.

The Centre is running a series of workshops to explore and share good practice. Workshop 1: Internationalisation began with a conversation between Hinterland‘s, Ed Thomas and Ed Talfan Davies and  Norskov’s Anne Blohm Rudbæk (SF Film Productions).

A set of conversations between three pairs of industry/academic professionals proved to be a lively and efficient method of conveying a great deal of information in a short time. I pioneered this method in the event I organised for the RTS, Expertise Exchange and I was delighted to see it work well again in a more intimate setting.

Prof Anne Marit Waade of Aarhus University and Hywel Wiliam examined together a particularly interesting case, that of historical series 1864, made by Danish Public Service Broadcaster DR1 (shown on BBC 4 in May). This was a deliberate move to a genre other than detective series and turned out to be extremely controversial as an examination of a formative moment in the nation’s history. The series cost £17 million, about£10 million from the publicly funded state broadcaster. Her account left little doubt about  the value of having politicians who understand the value of tv both economically and culturally. I look forward to reading more on the Centre website as this information needs to reach a wide audience.


Listening to presentations about Flemish, Swedish, Norwegian, Catalonian and Irish language tv makes me want to learn more about the work of the European Broadcasting Union.

Two more workshops are planned:

Workshop 2
S4C: Digital Innovation: recipes for cultural and commercial success

Workshop 3
Aarhus University: Sustaining Talent in small nations

The day ended with a free event organised by the RTS which gave an opportunity to meet some of those making television in other ‘small nations’ so successfully for the world.

rts nordics