Text: Stuart Kemp

Future Proofing the Industry 

Keynote Address by Johanna Koljonen

Author, analyst and broadcaster Johanna Koljonen delivered a fast-paced, hard-hitting keynote address at the third edition of CONNeXT, with some hard-to-hear revelations about the future challenges the European media sector faces, global pressures and the impact of changing audiences and tastes.

Koljonen presented updated findings from her annual future-facing study of the film industry in the 2018 Nostradamus report, which was first presented at Goteborg’s Nordic Film Market in February 2018.

“We’re not the Nosferatu project which it is most commonly referred to as,” Koljonen joked as her keynote began. “Even though some of these changes and some of the digital competitors might seem like evil vampires.”

She also noted it wasn’t named the Nostromo project, referencing the spaceship from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien, “though some of these changes might be as terrifying as those aliens are in the future.”

The report is the result of dozens of conversations with industry insiders including Danish Film Institute CEO Claus Ladegaard, NRK Head of Drama Ivar Køhn; and Mediavision CEO Marie Nilsson, on and off the record chats with a slew of key players and digesting myriad reports. 

THE EDGE OF CHANGE

Koljonen used the award-winning Swedish short film documentary Ten Meter Tower (2016), about people filmed climbing up to a diving platform and deciding whether or not to take the plunge, as a metaphor for the core finding of this year’s Nostradamus report. “We are as related media industries, standing on an edge,” Koljonen said.

Claus Ladegaard, the recently appointed CEO of the Danish Film Institute, told Koljonen in the interview for her report that the risks facing the feature film industry currently “really thrills me.”

“We can win or we can fail, we can lose it all within the next two, four, six years,” Ladegaard told Koljonen. “But I also think we can win and emerge as a better film industry with more impact.”

Koljonen set out to explain what she meant and what she thought Ladegaard meant by losing it all by asking attendees if any of them had ever had a profound cultural experience watching a play or an opera on the stage? The crowd was full of people who had. 

While her research and interviews did not lead her to believe feature film would be gone in five years, she did think the way the industry changes in that timeframe will be pivotal in its survival.

“So have I, many times,” she noted. “I think we can all agree that the medium of live stage performances of fictional stories has enormous artistic value, enormous democratic value and enormous human potential. Most of us also don’t go to the theatre three or four times a year, most of us don’t go to the opera three or four times a year.”

WARNING SIGNS

Koljonen told delegates that for her, the most momentous piece of media news last year was in May 2017 when the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus put on their final show after 146 consecutive years of performance. Growing up in Finland, “the greatest show on earth” was a part of her childhood, the shows shown almost every year on television, “so they had enormous reach.”

She pointed out that while the most successful circus in the world is gone, it didn’t mean that circus as an art form is dead.

“In fact you could argue that artistically circus is doing better than ever but it is very clear that just like the cultural role of opera has changed in the last 400 years from popular entertainment to something more elitist in some ways, I am sorry to say, the social role similarly of circus has changed in the last 200 years.”

Cirque du Soleil on Broadway, with people paying $150 for a ticket without blinking, is artistically outstanding and financially very profitable, “but that does not change the fact that big-top circus as a broad entertainment category is fast becoming a thing of the past,” said Koljonen. “And this is what we are talking about when it comes to film.”

While her research and interviews did not lead her to believe feature film would be gone in five years, she did think the way the industry changes in that timeframe will be pivotal in its survival.

“Maybe as soon as within 20 years, feature film in the cinema in particular might start to feel a little bit old fashioned,” Koljonen suggested. “We could make the choice to use public money to protect the status of feature film as we have done with opera but we cannot force an art form to stay relevant to a wider audience,” she said, insisting that as a classically trained singer her love of opera remains undiminished. “But opera is not important to the majority of people and I think that if we pay attention to how young people are consuming media, then this is something that might happen to film.”

While the risk to the film industry becoming old hat is very real, Koljonen and the experts she interviewed don’t see any reason to roll over and admit defeat.

“Of course we haven’t lost,” she said. “What worries me as an industry is that we resist change and when we resist change it suggests to me that we have already given up.”

She noted that while film has had a very good run for 120 years, it would be criminally naive to assume that the rules of cultural change that apply to other art forms would not apply to film.

“In the last five years we have seen a change in viewing behaviours that will never be rolled back. The movie theatres are doing really well let’s remember but their role and their function is changing,” Koljonen said. “We are already seeing a rapid divergence into this passive bombastic experience on one hand and as places of social meeting and strong curation on the other. Both are very valuable and interesting.”

Understanding changing audiences and formats is key.

“The audience perspective is very important. If we also include watching two episodes of the same show as the same as a feature length, then arguably almost everybody will watch feature-length content almost daily at home,” she said. “People love film, people love cinematic storytelling, people love stories that end, which is a really good bonus for feature-length content actually.”

And research published last year for beverage Coca-Cola shows even teen audiences still love going to the cinema and being in a big auditorium. “But they don’t like the theatre going experience, they don’t like how they are treated outside the room, they don’t like waiting, they don’t like the fact there is no place to hang out afterwards, they don’t feel welcome,” Koljonen said. “But the actual experience of being in the cinema is still very powerful.”

She reminded the audience that commercial success is not in conflict with being important politically or artistically and that big audiences for blockbusters — as a self-confessed superhero film nerd and fan — keep exhibitors in business.

“But I am also on the board of the Swedish Film Institute and interested in public funding and independent arthouse cinema in minority languages,” Koljonen said. “I think it is possible to like both those things at the same time. In fact if you want theatrical to survive I think you have to care very much about both of those things at the same time.”

There is room to voice concerns. While the blockbuster releases swallow up the majority of admissions, an enormous amount of films are sharing the rest of ticket sales, according to research from analyst Stephen Follows. And a study from Norway last year looked at the impact of digitalisation of cinemas and the vision that more titles would reach more people who in turn would see more films.

“If every new viewer could select and watch films that are meaningful to them individually, this would actually be great,” she said. “Maybe it is not necessarily bad that a bigger number of films are reaching a smaller number of viewers. Of course we would like it more if they were seen by greater numbers of viewers. The problem is, it is not working. Plenty of good films are not finding their audience at all and plenty of viewers are choosing other media because they cannot identify the titles that are relevant to them.”

TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING

Koljonen described the sector as trying to deal with a “tsunami of content,” noting that there are simply too many feature films being made in Europe.

“We’re just making too much content, we’re drowning our own markets and in places that are very production heavy like Spain and France they release on average four domestic titles a week,” she said. “You realise four domestic titles a week is not going to work. I don’t know how many is the better number but I am going to bet you that anything more than approximately one domestic title a week is going to be difficult to communicate. And that’s just film. You also have television.”

She pointed to the growing amount of scripted original shows jockeying for audience attention from both the US and Europe. “In the last five years the number of TV shows has more than doubled (from the US) to compete for audiences here in Europe,” Koljonen said. And with connected TV use accelerating, the upcoming rollout of 5G and better connectivity available to Americans who didn’t have good mobile streaming capacity previously, the US is predicted to see content production growth for a good few years to come.

And on exactly the same screens as film and TV plays out on, the audience has other things to embrace: For more than a decade, gaming has been a bigger global market than the independent film industry. That also now includes eSports (including in cinemas) and watching gaming live on Twitch.

Koljonen described the sector as trying to deal with a “tsunami of content,” noting that there are simply too many feature films being made in Europe.

“Basically it is my experience, which seems to be borne out by statistics, that everybody under the age of approximately 40, is a gamer. Unless you are in a position of power in the film industry where for some reason you are not gamers,” Koljonen mused. “Just looking at my friends is not a good measure for how important culturally this is. This is more or less the dominant medium and it is a problem if we look at what is happening in the space if we only look at film and TV when the screens are shared with all this other kind of content which is as compelling, sometimes more compelling, to the audiences.”

CAPTURING THE YOUTH AUDIENCE

Linear broadcast television is completely irrelevant to younger audiences, Koljonen reminded everyone.

“They do like cinema but they don’t necessarily go and when they do go, they go for a limited type of film, basically an American action movie,” said Koljonen. “The reason we have to care is that a 14 year old today is a 19-year-old five years from now and if you don’t catch them young — you probably have to catch them when they are closer to six than when they are 14 — we will lose them for our domestic industries entirely.”

Capturing the youth is a job that the public service broadcasters, commercial networks and the film industry needs to do together. Koljonen noted how different young lives are now compared to older members of society. “I like to think of myself as a young person but I am 40 years old and I can’t even snapchat with dignity, I don’t know how to do that right,” Koljonen joked.

Media executives can be out of touch with interactions with younger audiences. “The problem isn’t just that we can’t market to them, that we don’t understand how or where to put the content so they can find it, that is of course a business problem. But it is also a relevance problem. Because if we don’t understand how young people live, how can we tell stories about their lives?”

Koljonen described the situation as a “completely existential threat” to the industry because while it is in the business of telling stories, “so many youth movies and so much youth content isn’t set today it is set when I was young and that’s not as interesting and meaningful to kids who live a different kind of life today.”

It is also important to figure out about why this type of media consumption of young people works order to target audiences. “Basically they are too sophisticated and they don’t like being advertised to, they like being recommended to, so you kind of have to get them to fall in love with the thing so they can find it through their friends in different ways. The most powerful influencer is a friend.”

Putting in the time and listening to the wants of young people is crucial.

“All the good stuff comes when you put some young people in the room and ask them questions and then shut up and listen to the answers,” Koljonen thinks. “Sometimes people, including young people, will tell you what they think you want to hear. Instead spend some time hanging out with them and following them around and figure out what they are actually doing.”

Doing that doesn’t have to be expensive and should be something that should be done by filmmakers, distributors and funders alike. “But they can’t be your kids. Hanging out with your kids or anyone’s kids whose parents are in the film industry does not count, they are not representative in their use of film content,” Koljonen warned.

ROLE MODEL

Koljonen cited the Norwegian multi-platform youth drama Skam, centring on 16-year-old girls in Oslo, as a case in point. “The question is, was it actually television? An important thing about Skam was that it wasn’t one hit. It was four entirely different hits if you break it down into viewing patterns.”

Initially released online on NRK’s blog-based platform, Skam then went on to be a hit on broadcaster’s catch up player and channel, where it was watched by parents and grandparents and then finally it was a hit on pirated platforms, where it rapidly became a global phenomenon.

Why? Because the audiences wouldn’t wait for it to be accessible and there were fan translations out within 15 minutes of a new show being released.

Koljonen pointed out that success stories like this are important because “they demonstrate that you don’t have to lose a whole generation of viewers.”

Imagine a Norwegian pubcaster making a huge international hit? “If you do something very right of course people will come so again, when people say it is never possible, is now proven to be wrong. And that means that literally anyone could hypothetically do that.”

The creators did not set out to make a global phenomenon. “The original target audience was 16 year old girls in Norway, not 16 to 34, not even 16 to 20, not 16 to 20 girls and boys, but specifically 16 year girls only,” says Koljonen. “That was who they were trying to reach in Norway and they did research of how these young people live in a very specific school. They said ‘OK, we’re not going to try and portray how all the young people live but if you go to this one specific school today, what is your life like?”

Because of that specificity, they ended up creating something so universal that it was watched across generations.

‘“When I talk about threats and existential crises and things that are changing, there is always a flip side and that flip side is that literally anything is possible now,” says Koljonen. The industry recognises that if Skam had been made as a movie and released via traditional channels, it wouldn’t have become a global phenomenon for all kinds of reasons. 

“That wouldn’t have been possible within the old system. But today we live in a world where those old rules do not apply and that is very useful,” said Koljonen before promising she intended to end the session on a note of hope for the film industry.

The show has since launched remakes in the US, Spain, Belgium, Germany France, Italy and beyond.

Because of that specificity, they ended up creating something so universal that it was watched across generations.

THE TV THREAT

So why should the film industry care about what happens with television?

“Feature-length film isn’t working very well. Most broadcasters don’t know how to schedule or use films on their services if they are going online,” said Koljonen, who also expects all broadcasters to be online within the next five years. “Relatively speaking with the DVD window gone, the broadcast and the income from the broadcast windows, all of that is becoming proportionally much more important and that might be disappearing for film as well, or certainly shrinking rapidly.”

Compared to the past, film is now programmed less, commissioned less and invested in less by broadcasters. “Even in countries such as France where it is legislated that the broadcaster have to invest in film, the cash allocated is connected to a percentage of their overall revenues. So when television or traditional television is not doing as well, the cash pool for film also shrinks.”

“This affects the whole ecosystem and again it effects the window we have had with the most reach for film content and documentary film. Broadcast television has been the most impactful window so this is a problem,” added Koljonen.

Also, political threats cannot be underestimated as public service broadcaster funding has recently been cut in Denmark and across other countries. 

“And every time there is an election, concerns that some populists will come into power and cut either public arts funding or public media funding or both are getting higher,” Koljonen said. “There are other big important chunks of funding. The whole infrastructure of how we make film and entertainment content in Europe might change overnight in your country.”

BIG LITTLE LIES OFFER HOME TRUTHS

The HBO-backed high-end mini-series Big Little Lies based on Liane Moriarity’s bestselling book, starring film stars Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley, throws up more difficult questions for the film industry. It’s first season was, after all, about two and a half feature films in length (or two features in length these days). Some viewers watched it in one night, others over over two or three nights.

“It’s kind of like watching two movies with this calibre of performer. We used to call them movie stars. So what is a movie now?,” Koljonen wondered.

She pointed out that film used to be defined by the medium it was shot on. Now most films are shot digitally, so that definition goes out the window. “Then we look to define it on the distribution channels but again we’ve had television movies for decades and now of course we are seeing high profile projects being made for services that never pretend in fact they will be released in the cinemas (or they won’t be allowed to be released in the cinemas).”

But an Adam Sandler movie on Netflix is still a movie even though it is not going to be in cinemas. So the question is increasingly, is this film? “I would say having worked with a lot of film institutes in Europe that [the question] is a big challenge for everybody in the industry.”

DRIVING CHANGE NOT CONTENT LABELS

Koljonen this the industry is to set in a traditional way of looking at windows, platforms and formats. “We are driving filmmakers into making feature content when perhaps it should be something else.” When somebody approaches a backer with a project, the first question asked could be, ‘Is this a film? Then who is it for and who the actual target audience might be?

“I think a lot of filmmakers go home at night and watch Netflix instead of going to the movies and maybe what they are describing to me isn’t a feature film, what they’re describing to me sounds like 12 episodes length,” Koljonen mused. “Why are we having a conversation about making a feature film? Maybe it is something else, maybe the target audience is somebody who watches none of these things and maybe it should be on YouTube, maybe it should be on Facebook or maybe it should be somewhere else completely in a different format.”

Koljonen said projects could end up the same number of minutes but divided up in different ways. “Who is it for, where is the audience’s attention? And  then you work backwards from monetising that attention in some way and then you will know, is this a feature film or not, is this a TV series or not?”

Koljonen pointed to the fact there are many TV shows that will not work in broadcast because there is no slot broad enough for them to make an impact. That, said Koljonen, counts for the broadcaster’s mainstream channel but the same show might do very well on a catch-up service under the umbrella of their brand.

“We, all of us, have to start thinking like that about every project and none of the funding structures support this right now in Europe,” Koljonen said. “I think the industry will have to take the lead on this and we might have to do it anyway because that public funding might disappear over night.”

WINDOWS OF OPPORTUNITY

There is a growing belief in the industry that the notion of deals based on individual territories are threatened by technology and global distribution methods.

“Everyone we spoke to agrees that yes, the European Digital Single Market still protects the territoriality principle and that’s good because everything would become a territorial shit show if they took that away,” said Koljonen.

But everybody also agrees that’s not going to last. Very soon we’re going to lose this way of cross-selling and funding, we’re not going to be working based on territories anymore.”

Koljonen thinks there are myriad reasons for this: Consumers don’t understand it, most importantly, but it is also in conflict with how technologies work and how releases work currently.

“The attention of a global audience can still be split, divided and monetised in different ways but it seems incredibly arbitrary to say we are going to do on the basis of nation states,” Koljonen said. “It seems incredibly 19th century to do it like that. Language areas would be more natural, or target audiences, or interest groups.”

Europe is already bearing witness to a lot of consolidation in the sales and distribution sector, reflecting a global trend. “We are going to need some bigger operators because the whole market will change and I think that some companies will inevitably disappear as part of this process,” Koljonen observed. “They’ll end up being in the wrong place, not necessarily because of incompetence. It’s just because when this happens it might happen fast and in a terrifying manner.”

MORE MONEY, MORE PROBLEMS?

Earlier this year, the European Parliament approved an update to the Media Services Directive that forces local investment from streaming services like Netflix and Amazon operating in Europe and all also enforces quotas on European content, including on the home pages, of these services. 

Koljonen predicts it will push more cash into sector in the short term. “It seems like the overall amount of money in the system is increasing all the time. The reason we are making 900 movies a year in Europe is because of all the tax rebate money that has been introduced in all the countries so more and more money seems to be entering the production system for film and television in Europe just like in the US.”

Koljonen says nobody feels like they are doing better because there is more money swilling around. “It just seems that we are doing worse because of all the competition. It’s weird and counter intuitive but the more I think about this, and I am five years into this project [Nostradamus], the more i think it might not actually be helpful,” she told CONNeXT delegates. “Certainly we could use this money in a better way, we could make fewer films that are more expensive and I hope better. And sort out some of this competition problem in that way.”

There is a growing belief in the industry that the notion of deals based on individual territories are threatened by technology and global distribution methods.

There is some political pushback against global companies, to make them play by the rules and contribute to the local production economies in Europe.

“Maybe we could say, ‘OK, let’s take this money and use it as an opportunity to breathe and make some long-term plans instead of continuing this mad scrabble towards that edge that we will all fall off eventually,” Koljonen offered. “I think that there is a real opportunity here and the reason that we are going to need to think very cleverly or strategically about what the hell we are doing.”

HOLLYWOOD MAJORS IN THINKING

From the European perspective, the Hollywood majors have always been godlike. Especially the Hollywood majors’ ability to fund, make and attract European talent and pull in European audiences “with both the best high-quality content and the worst but very entertaining crap.”

Said Koljonen: “Basically they have all the money, they can do whatever they want. Of course you can see the number of majors is already smaller since January (when Disney announced its merger with Fox).”

Now the Hollywood majors are joined by Netflix. “We speak of Netflix as a mythical monster: Netflix eats the viewers, it lures audiences into this endless labyrinth, sneakily cheating, betraying us by offering them relevant content of excellent quality,” Koljonen said with a smile. “That’s clearly not fair. It feels unfair. We all mind about this and we will all go home and watch Netflix.”

US SVOD services will spend $20 billion on original content this year, up from $15 billion in 2017. 

One studio stands above the others: Disney, which has dominated US box office grosses during the first nine months of 2018 with the top seven all adding to Disney coffers including the chart-topping Black Panther (Disney), Avengers: Infinity War (Disney) and The Incredibles 2 (Disney, Pixar). Even Solo (Disney), a film labelled a flop, made it into the top 10 with a US gross of more $200 million and $180 million internationally.

In 2016, when industry overall earnings shrank 19% of the money actually made, Disney took home 61% of the earnings in the industry.

“The question we can ask ourselves is what is Disney’s business model? What is Disney selling?,” Koljonen asked the audience. “Toys” shouted one audience member. “A whole other universe,” came another. “Backpacks, memorabilia, toys, also dreams,” whispered another.

Koljonen suggests Disney is now “in the business of generational myth building, secular religion.”

She pointed to the studio’s strategic purchases including the Marvel superhero universe and Star Wars and its stated aim to buy other properties that fit into a Disney universe.

“Stories and values that you will want to give to your children, that you will want to share with your children generation after generation,” Koljonen said; “Disney has a 100-year plan, other media companies don’t have a 100-year plan. Maybe we all should.”

Koljonen said she’s settled for media companies having a two-year plan. “The business model of Disney is more or less about owning our emotions. It sounds sinister but it doesn’t have to be bad. They want to own our emotions, they want to own the box office and they want to own 100% of your children’s attention.”

She pointed out that trying to take on a narrative brand that “people are literally tattooing on their bodies” would be very difficult.

MAJORS TO MINORS?

And now there’s even bigger fish rising as the gods and monsters of the US majors are no longer the biggest players in the pool.

Apple, Alphabet (the parent company Google and YouTube), Microsoft (Xbox), Amazon and Facebook are five of the world’s biggest companies in any category by market capitalization (or what their stock is worth). So while market cap is not cash at hand, not revenues, not the price for buying the company, not the total value of its assets — it remains a decent shorthand for value.

Five of the world’s biggest companies in any category are now the film industry’s competition. And the competition has ceased to be about sales or box office dollars, the level at which most of the film industry operates.

“It’s for audience attention. So relevance will become as important as quality and production value,” Koljonen said. “Any of these companies could decide tomorrow to acquire a major studio if they want to.”

Factoring in scale is important. iPhone users can use Apple’s App Store. The App Store opened 10 years ago and this year, the AppStore alone is projected to surpass the global movie industry in revenues.

Facebook and Google between them account for 61% of all online ad revenue in the world, which translates to about a quarter of all the advertising revenue in the world.

Jeff Bezos, the Amazon founder, is according to Wikipedia, personally worth $160 billion. Disney bought the Fox film assets in the end, after accelerated bidding, for $71.4 billion. That means Bezos could have bought the Fox assets personally twice and still have $20 billion to live the rest of his days on.

The list of the globe’s top 10 companies also includes two Chinese companies Tencent and Alibaba.

“I think if I come back next year or in two years time I am going to talk a lot about Tencent and Alibaba in the same tone as we have today about Amazon even though they right now are directing their attention to slightly different parts of the industry,” Koljonen predicted.

She argued that the profitability of one single piece of content becomes completely irrelevant if your business model is to sell something else. An Amazon Prime member in the United States can get groceries delivered for free at home within two hours in a lot of urban areas. Or groceries with books and a gaming system. “A lot of these big companies who make film and TV and video content now, their business model does not require any individual piece of content to be profitable and that means they cannot be outspent,” Koljonen noted.

“At first when I thought about this, I thought, ‘It’s a disaster.’ But the more I thought about it, the more I see it as an opportunity,” she continued. “More money is not the answer. We are never going to be able to win this competition by putting more money in. We couldn’t even do with the Hollywood majors and these competitors have so much more money than they (the majors) ever did.”

Facebook and Google between them account for 61% of all online ad revenue in the world, which translates to about a quarter of all the advertising revenue in the world.

Still, opportunities exist, especially if the European industry rethinks how it spends its money. “There’s talent and there’s skill and there’s local relevance that is currently probably not being leveraged as optimally as it might. That’s true across the industry,” she said.

Windows, platforms, territories and formats are converging and audiovisual works will be used to sell other things in the market itself.

THEATRES OF DREAMS

Koljonen believes the content and cultural role in cinemas is changing or has changed already and this inevitably means that revenues will not the same ever again.

“Previously we used to make a lot of money in theatres and a little money in each following window or if you’re in broadcasting, whatever your first window was, that was where you would make the most money,” Koljonen said. “Now we are going to have to place the correct piece of content where the exact right audience can find it. We must allure and educate the audience to want it…we must monetise the attention differently than we did before.”

Existential questions need to be asked, now, she thinks. Where should film fit in this landscape? What is TV drama in this landscape? What is video in this landscape? How do we want to work, what is the industry that we want to work in?

With the inevitability of change comes opportunity, according to Koljonen. “You get to dictate up to a point what happens next. But to do that we need to have some idea of what we want to happen.” There is a tension between broad audiences and artistic experimentation but Koljonen doesn’t think there is any kind of conflict between quality and popularity.

Koljonen believes the content and cultural role in cinemas is changing or has changed already and this inevitably means that revenues will not the same ever again.

“You can absolutely do both, many of the big TV shows and much of your work demonstrates that logic. Even experimental content, niche content, content in small languages has completely different market potential in a world where we can target releases based on individual tastes. The fact that Norwegian and Finnish television drama today travels the world should tell you that anything is possible.”

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

The industry must think about how film culture works. “I think some key questions include what’s public funding for in this landscape? Who should own our dreams? Who should own our entertainment? asked Koljonen.

Some argue that Hollywood is in a creative crisis. Koljonen and others smell opportunity.

She sees a sweet spot “especially for the middle-brow, mid-budget movie by Hollywood standards — which by our standards would be a not too intelligent but still smart and really expensive movie by European standards,” she said. “They don’t even make them anymore because they can’t find them and they can’t release them. So there is a gap in the market for exactly that kind of content that we’re great at making.”

There is even talk of the potential for the European blockbuster, akin to ‘A Man Called Ove’, which was a commercial box office hit at home in Sweden and then traveled the world as an intelligent arthouse film, simply because it was Swedish. (A Hollywood remake with Tom Hanks is in the works now.)

“Whatever content you make that is enormously broad in your own country will be niche when it travels internationally,” said Koljonen. “And that’s a good thing to keep in mind but that’s also fantastic because now we can make anything, right?”

It is possible to fund European blockbusters outside normal channels and Europe also plays host to a lot of US blockbuster productions.

“The only thing we seem to be lacking in Europe for some reason is the scriptwriters, but there are a lot of good programmes working to address that,” Koljonen said. “And again, what if lack of money is not a problem even for normal channels? We have money and we decide where to put it.” 

TO DO LIST

Koljonen told delegates to “dream big, but be super focused to say there is nothing we cannot do.” She reminded attendees they are not competing on production value or budget size, ever.

Some argue that Hollywood is in a creative crisis. Koljonen and others smell opportunity.

“We are competing on quality in the sense that you can’t make anything that’s shit. There is no reason for anyone ever to watch anything that is bad ever so it has to be good, that’s just the hygiene factor,” she said. “Relevance is what we compete on. Whether it is big or small, regardless of platform, this is what your content will be measured on. It is business critical, mission critical, because we cannot be relevant unless we understand all audiences.”

PUTTING CONTENT IN CONTEXT

While there was much talk about content strategy, Koljonen suggested a shift towards talking about context 

“If we work according to the old logic, the logic that we started out in this industry with, we’re all fucked because basically that role doesn’t exist anymore. So that places us in a thrilling moment of risk and opportunity,” Koljonen said.

Cinemas are doing well right now but the cultural role is shifting and the majority of films and audiovisual content is now consumed in people’s homes.

“To remain relevant, to monetise audience attention in the value chain, to reach especially young audiences who don’t respond to advertising, we have to shift in attitudes and business models and we cannot wait for the European funders to do it for us, it’s too slow,” Koljonen said. “This has to happen now and it especially has to happen in the European production structures. We need to be proactive to stay connected to audiences or we will lose them to people who can always outspend us on reach.”

She also called for an uptick in diversity in industry leadership and on the floor to oil the wheels of change.

“In Europe I think almost all our decision makers both on the production side and the funding side are all white people with really arrogant attitudes about any kind of media that wasn’t around when they were young and any kind of innovation that does not involve a projector,” said Koljonen. “We need to change the world within five years but the leadership is very unlikely to all suddenly retire during that time. So that’s what we’re going to have to work with, we’re going to have to convince these people that we are right or we set them aside and find another way and do it on our own.”

Cinemas are doing well right now but the cultural role is shifting and the majority of films and audiovisual content is now consumed in people’s homes.

Koljonen said the industry had a unique opportunity to change the landscape of cinema and television right here. “And I think you should. I know it’s scary but you can do it,” she said.

The 2018 Nostradamus report, entitled Do or Die?, can be found here: https://film.lindholmen.se/en/news/2018-nostradamus-report-do-or-die