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Danish TV Industry Urged to ‘Embrace Change’

The annual TV festival in Denmark had sessions on ‘the sinking flagships’ and how to survive ‘the TV apocalypse’, but the overall headline for the event was how to ‘embrace change’. Eva Novrup Redvall reports.

TV festival 2014 cAs argued by production studies scholars such as John Thornton Caldwell one can learn a lot from studying industry’s ‘deep texts’ and from observing how practitioners discuss their work lives and the current state of affairs in the media industries. However, many industry gatherings are off limits to scholars or charge expensive prices for taking part in events that are also important professional venues for networking and presenting oneself to colleagues and potential clients.

To make sure that people pay and participate, there is often a high level of secrecy around what actually goes down when the industry talks to and about itself, but the TV festival in Denmark has chosen a different path. Since its establishment in 2000, the event has become a major meeting point for the Danish TV industry. Since 2010, many of the around 40 annual sessions or talks (30% in English) are online as webcasts following the festival, but this doesn’t seem to stop the industry from coming. The festival addresses all television genres, from news over documentary to drama and entertainment. The 2014 edition in August was a well-attended two-day event with the annual television award show as the closing party.

International inspiration

The TV festival is a non-profit initiative organized by the Danish Producers Guild, this year with co-financing from the broadcasters DR, TV 2 and TV3 and support from funds and sponsors. The festival is intended as a supplementary training offer, but also as a source of inspiration. An important part of the festival is to invite international speakers to tell about the latest trends in the global market to make sure that the Danish industry keeps up with what is going on abroad.

Among the prominent guests addressing changes in the current broadcasting landscape were representatives from the online news channel Vice, presenting it as the voice of a generation, and from The Huffington Post addressing how to move from online news aggregation to social media amplification. There was a presentation on BBC Instafax, and several sessions on how to think of YouTube in a television context, on how to boost one’s viewing figures with Twitter or on participatory media and the second screen experience.

The Team and Ricky Gervais’ David Brent

TV Festival 2014 bFrom a MeCETES film and television drama point of view, the TV festival hosted interesting sessions on television fiction. There was a panel on new Nordic Noir focusing specifically on the making of the forthcoming European ‘road movie police series’ The Team. The MeCETES conference at the Ostend Film Festival next week will explore this series further with its conceptualising director Kathrine Windfeld as one of the invited guests for the conference Making European Film and Television Drama.

The session on The Team from the TV festival is now online as is the session with producer and director Charlie Hanson who is currently working with Ricky Gervais on Derek. Hanson addressed how Gervais is an example of ‘talent turned showrunner’ and discussed how a charity event resurrection of Gervais’ character David Brent from The Office after a ten year hiatus has now led to production of a feature film with Brent going on tour with his band Foregone Conclusion. The online success of Gervais’ video with the rapper Dom Johnson and a YouTube channel depicting Brent’s new life as a guitar teacher proved that there was an interest in seeing this character return, and the online interest has thus been instrumental in getting the new film on track.

Nic Pizzolato and True Detective

The biggest drama guest at this year’s festival was Nic Pizzolato, the creator of HBOs crime drama True Detective starring Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. Unfortunately this session is not online, but it was an interesting account of the way in which Pizzolato got to create his unique show even if he didn’t have much experience as a television writer and of his approach to writing strong drama.

To him, characters always come first, and they don’t have to be likable even if many commissioners think that way. As he stated: “You need to like your friends, you don’t need to like characters. You need to be fascinated by characters. And I think what fascinates about characters is authenticity. That you feel you’re watching a living, breathing human being.”

The session with Pizzolato was chaired by Danish director Janus Metz who is set to direct the film adaptation of Pizzolato’s novel Galveston. The Danish press was invited to cover the on-stage conversation between Pizzolato and Metz, but otherwise the only coverage of this year’s festival focused on the challenges coming from new online platforms and social media in terms of trying to do business as usual in the Danish television industry.

The TV industry and ‘The TV Revolution’

TV festival eThe headline for this year’s festival was to ‘embrace change’, and the remarkable number of sessions on major changes in production and distribution tried to keep a positive spin on the way old business models are crumbling and audiences have to be addressed and found in new ways – even if all participants seemed to agree that there are no easy solutions in terms of how to adapt to the new television landscape where still more viewing takes place on streaming services rather than on the traditional broadcast channels.

Interestingly, the festival also became the launch pad for a new community of TV workers, who fight for improved work conditions in the industry and would like to see broadcasters and producers embrace changes for the better in this regard. The community, called ‘The TV Revolution’, had printed flyers for the event and had even produced short animation films addressing how TV workers get hired on unreasonable conditions and how promotions in the industry happen without necessarily preparing people to take on the new positions, often leading to a lot of anxiety and stress (the films can be seen as part of the session with producers, called ‘Producenterne i den varme stol’, but they are in Danish). At the festival, the people behind the community all remained anonymous, but now there is a spokesperson who has publicly addressed issues like different problems related to the extensive use of freelancers in the industry.

While the webcasts from the festival offer the opportunity to feel like an industry insider for free at home, the on-going discussions between sessions and debates about initiatives such as The TV Revolution is of course what one cannot get a real sense of without being actually there. So while we as scholars can have access to a lot of new and helpful material through the wondrous world of new media, there is still a lot to be said for being in the right places at the right time.

For webcasts of selected sessions from the festivals 2011-2014 visit:

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