The Northern Path: Cooperation and Competition in the Nordics

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Last week, I was a moderator at the second annual Northern Waves conference in Oslo. It's the newest of a number of one-day events in the Nordics. The Nordic TV Summit began in 2010 in Copenhagen, while Streaming Tech Sweden held its inaugural event in 2017. Nordic TV Summit focuses entirely on the business side of OTT, while Streaming Tech Sweden is almost exclusively technical. Northern Waves splits the difference, with a morning full of sessions covering technical issues like IMF, CMAF, and latency, and an afternoon devoted to case studies and business discussions.

What they share is that while they are all sponsored by vendors (24i Media for Nordic TV Summit, Eyevinn Technology for Streaming Tech Sweden, and Norigin Media for Northern Waves), none of those vendors allow product pitches from the stage, either for their own companies or for any vendors who speak. They also put a premium on networking—they're large enough to draw the biggest names in the Nordic market, along with big global players, but small enough that over the course of the day and evening, attendees can spend high-quality time learning from each other and doing business.

At Northern Waves this year, the theme that ran through the entire day was cooperation, highlighted by a presentation from Canal Digital's Henke Erichsen called "Nordic Pay TV Collaboration." Erichsen made the bold proposal that pay TV operators, telcos, broadcasters, and pure streaming services in the region need to stop duplicating efforts and spending on technologies and services. For example, if the same piece of content is going to be delivered by multiple services, why should each service pay for its own transcoding and storage?

As an analogy, Erichsen turned to the airline industry. There was a time when each airline employed its own baggage handlers and catering, but eventually they realized that it made more economic sense for them to contract those services out. Why can't OTT providers do the same with transcoding and storage for duplicate content?

The big sticking points would seem to be rights agreements and security, and while those hurdles might be relatively easy to overcome in a small market like the Nordics, it's harder to imagine such a collaborative approach working in the U.S. But Erichsen and executives from a wide variety of companies including RiksTV, Discovery Networks Norway, Com Hem, and Telia were all bullish on the idea, both on and offstage, so there may be a working model in place relatively soon.

I've long said that the U.S. would be wise to look to the Nordics for inspiration on both the technology and business fronts (and with the explosion in popularity of Nordic content, we're already doing so). Perhaps the next year or two will yield yet another lesson or two that we can learn from the region.

[This article appears in the Autumn 2019 issue of Streaming Media Europe magazine.]

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