Skip to main content

HBO and Netflix lock horns in Nordics

The Nordic region is now one of the world’s hotbeds for multiscreen OTT services following the entry of Time Warner’s HBO and Netflix, ranged alongside an array of local providers such as Norwegian incumbent Telco Telenor and Voddler.

HBO, the largest U.S. premium network with 29 million subscribers, said it was launching a “multi-platform video distribution venture,” expanding on the existing online catch-up service HBO Go already available in some central and eastern European territories, although not yet the big markets of Western Europe. The HBO Nordic service will be run as a joint venture with Parsifal International, a privately owned company providing media services throughout Europe, which runs the Finnish TV channel URHOtv offering sports and movies.

Meanwhile, Netflix has also unveiled plans to launch across the four Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland by the end of 2012, renewing its international expansion after a six-month hold while the operator returned to profitability. The service, which will be available on PCs, Macs, smart TVs, games consoles, Blu-ray disc players, smartphones and tablets, will comprise a mixture of movie and local material depending on the outcome of ongoing talks with local content partners.

Currently, Netflix operates inCanada, the UK, Ireland, and several Latin American countries besides its US domestic market. Netflix originally planned to launch in Spain before the Nordics, early in 2012, but postponed this partly because of the deepening recession in that country.

HBO and Netflix are entering an already competitive market for OTT in all four of the Nordic countries, with local players including Amazon-owned LoveFilm, Viaplay from the Swedish media company MTG (Modern Times Group), and private Stockholm-based Voddler.

Viaplay, in June 2012, became one of Europe’s first providers to offer a full hybrid service combining digital terrestrial with OTT, by teaming up with French set top box maker Netgem to develop a dedicated set top box. The service delivers a range of free to air terrestrial channels combined with paid premium content delivered OTT. Viaplay claimed this was the first time a pay TV operator in the Nordics had combined adaptive bit rate streaming technology with free-to-air digital terrestrial transmission to provide a single TV service with just one channel list with seamless channel change. Other hybrid services, such as BT Vision in the UK, have used DTT to deliver linear channels and a dedicated IPTV network for on demand content as a single subscription package but as largely separate services.

Viaplay is using the Viaplay box to broaden its existing Swedish offering, and make linear and on-demand pay-TV content, including TV series, films and sports, available directly on a TV using a remote control. Viaplay already offered an online TV service, and the new box combines this with MTG’s Viasat DTT channels, all now available to multiscreen devices such as PCs, tablets and smartphones, as well as connected TVs, via a single log in. The box itself is a customized version of Netgem’s existing multifunction hybrid STB, using its middleware to drive the enhanced Viaplay service combined with the linear DTT channels.

Voddler provides a VOD service offering a combination of movies and TV series from 35 content providers, including the Hollywood majors, and has over 1 million registered customers in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. In December 2012 Voddler launched its offline mode, becoming one of the first VOD services to enable subscribers to download movies for viewing later without being online. Voddler has expanded this to include thousands of “free movies” funded by advertising, claiming it was then the world’s first commercial VOD-service to offer both rental and free movies for download.

Another major Nordic OTT player is Telenor of Norway, whose service called comoYo launched in May 2011 offers content from existing partners for TVs, phones, PCs, tablets and connected TVs. Some of the video from Canal Digital’s content partners will be available free as part of their existing Pay TV subscription. This was launched as a single business unit operating across Norway, Sweden and Denmark, designed to handle content rights for the whole group in the Nordic region. It was set up to acquire distribution rights for all platforms, covering linear and all non-linear formats, aiming to harness the buying influence of its established content businesses, including its Canal Digital company, to extract better pricing on emerging content offers.

Currently however Norway’s OTT field is dominated by TV2 Sumo, run by the country’s largest Free To Air commercial operator TV2, which accounts for around 25 percent of TV viewing and 65 percent of the TV advertising market. Sumo is Norway’s main subscription OTT service, having been launched in 2007 and based on the operator’s bespoke Sumo Video platform, which incorporates streaming technology from Conviva. Being early gave the platform an edge over most others, and, in April 2011, TV2 created a spinoff company called Vimond to market the technology to other broadcasters as a SaaS (Software as a Service) package. The product is now a complete delivery platform for OTT services incorporating DRM, content publishing, metadata management, and analytics.

Among customers are Sweden’s TV4 and Finland’s MTV3. This platform competes with the likes of Brightcove and Kit Digital, but is virtually unique in Europe in being designed by a broadcaster rather than emerging online service or technology provider, and is comparable with Comcast’s’ thePlatform in the US. According to the report Navigating OTT, Over The Top Video Markets in Europe, published by UK based Rethink Technologies Research , Sumo had about 80,000 subscribers, or 5 percent of Norway’s broadband households, at the end of 2011, earning about €13 million in that year, about 65 percent of the country’s total online TV revenue. The Rethink report indicated this put Sumo among Europe’s leaders as one of the very few OTT services making money in its own right, as opposed to merely combating churn.

Meanwhile in Denmark, OTT viewing has been led by public broadcaster DR (Danmarks Radio, translated officially as the Danish Broadcasting Corporation) with its DR Update news channel and website. DR Update is comparable with the BBC News website, combining graphics and text with videos, optimized for rolling 24-hour coverage. provides catch up but also, unlike some other European public broadcasters, scheduled linear TV, which has propelled the site into the country’s number one OTT service. Although only accounting for about 1 percent of all DR viewing, it is regularly visited by about 600,000 Danes, according to the Rethink Technologies Research report.

In Finland, the leading OTT service also comes from the public broadcaster, YLE, with its Areena online portal. Again, like, but unlike most other such portals in Europe so far, YLE Areena offers live as well as catch up content, providing access to all four of its channels, including international sporting events. Areena is based on TeliaSonera’s Media Distribution Service (MDS), which manages storage and distribution of content from upload right through to TV or online broadcast. It taps into TeliaSonera International Carrier’s global fiber optic network, so giving the potential to provide worldwide access to the content.