BLOG: A Week at TVNorge with The Network

Benjamin Spiro-Hughes was a delegate on our junior talent scheme, The Network, in 2014, and in late 2015, the Talent Schemes team arranged for him to spend a week work-shadowing at TVNorge. He wrote a blog about his time in Norway:

I am currently sat in my hotel room in the business district of Olso, Nydalen, after a week of shadowing at TVNorge, which is owned by Discovery. But how did I get here?

Not long after the Festival finished I went to work, as a Production Assistant for Radio 4 drama in Birmingham. I kept in contact with The Network team, and mentioned that one day I would like to work in Scandinavia. This was for a number of reasons: I am intrigued by the culture and I strongly believe that learning skills in another country looks great on your CV.

I never really expected anything to come of it, but then had an email from Campbell Glennie (Director, Talent Schemes) in June 2015, asking me if I wanted to come and work-shadow in Norway at TVNorge (owned by Discovery Network International)  for a week in November.

It was only when I received the schedule that I realised how exciting it is going to be, but more importantly, how many people had helped make it happen. At the time, the only way I could sum up my feelings were to utter Matthew McConaughey’s first words in film, “Alright, alright, alright”.

On day one, within seconds of arriving, I knew it was going to be a different kind of working culture. I was welcomed with a sign with my name on it and a smiley emoji, along with signs for people’s birthdays. Kaisa, who had helped to organise the whole week, told me this was because I was “part of the family”.

First up, I attended the weekly meeting about ratings and a briefing for the coming week. There are quite a lot of British people already working here, and most people flip, effortlessly, between Norwegian and English.

I then met Eivind, the programme director, who presides over a substantial budget. It was interesting to hear that, despite showing a lot of imported content, he is very passionate about local content. TVNorge has been able to make more local content by investing in ‘faces’ that will head the brand. They have been especially successful in comedy where they are now the market leader in Norway.

The playlist department are not in charge of the office’s Spotify as I thought at first glance; they are the final checkers when it comes to the schedule. It was insightful to find out about more about the strident standards governing Norwegian advertising, and that viewers are now warned about product placement in programmes.

What surprised me most is the company’s open door submission policy. Rather than worrying about wasting time listening to ideas that might be unsuitable, they are more concerned about missing out on great ideas. A response is provided to every company that pitches within two weeks. ‘Only through an agent’ warnings and submission windows are not an issue here, even though they only have one development assistant.

Finally Aina showed me the final process of checking local broadcasts for glitches or mistakes. Often, on longer running series, like the survival show 71 degrees, there is less to check. However, on new series the most checking always goes into the first episode.

After meeting Mette in playlist, I met Alexander in scheduling. His role is a never-ending puzzle of fitting the schedule together. The perk, he told me, was being able to select which films they show on their channels (you would not believe the screening costs of James Bond films).

Having worked briefly for an advertising agency, it was really interesting to meet Thomas in Brand Care. TVNorge have made a lot of innovative promos, where programme promos transition into an advert or where the promo is part of the advert itself. For example, they created a promo where the channel content was showing on a Samsung phone.

Rebecca Rormark, head of marketing, has extensive experience in both the UK and Norway. She told me about her department’s crucial role in promoting shows – how to revive a flagging programme or push an unexpected hit. It was good to hear Rebecca talk about the differences between the industries in each country.

On Wednesday we started with a meeting of the APs, which took place mostly in Norwegian. Later that day, I would be going into the forest, to test equipment for a new reality programme that has been in development for two years. It is the first idea that I’ve heard of where they are waiting for the technology to catch up with the idea.

In the evening, we ventured out into the Norwegian woods, to shoot a pilot for a scripted reality horror. It was terrifying and dangerous. The story revolves around dead boy scouts, and the contestants have to search for clues in the woods, in the dark and cold to discover the truth. My words cannot do it justice, but if it works it could be an international bestseller (either the programme or format).

On Thursday I spent most of the day in sport. I was given a tour of the Ullevaal stadium and shown the set up for TVNorge’s version of Match of Day, but also the gallery set up for the UEFA live stream.

In the evening, I was lucky enough to attend TVNorge’s seasonal launch ‘up front’ – a showcase of all their new programming, along with a three-course meal. It was then onto watch the Norwegian team lose to Hungary (but at least we got a complimentary blanket to keep the cold out).

On Friday, I met the Head of International Acquisitions. Acquisitions are an area I am really interested in, because it is an excuse to watch a lot of television. I found that many channels have an exclusive deal with a studio and they will show everything that the studio produces, no matter what they think about. It is more about finding an appropriate place for it on the schedule. Then after a farewell lunch, it was back home.

Looking back on it there were a number of aspects I took away from the journey. It was an incredible opportunity, and I really hope others get a chance to experience something similar, especially as television becomes more and more about co-producing with different countries.

I really feel TVNorge are prepared to take more risks and be bolder when it comes to the ideas they commission. They have a much flatter structure, so everything is more fluid and decisions get made properly, but quickly, and executives are much more approachable. I really think the television industry in Britain could learn from that.

Most importantly, they really wanted to share what they knew and were excited, as is The Network, by new talent. I really took away that despite shrinking budgets and changing viewing habits, if the idea and the talent behind it are good enough it will get made.

The Talent Schemes team would like to thank Mark Procter, Eivind Landsverk and Sarah Thornton at Discovery for all their hard work in making this fantastic opportunity take place.

If you or someone you know are keen to start a career in TV and get access to money-can’t-buy opportunities like Benjamins’s, apply now for The Network. Deadline for applications is Monday 4 April, 11pm.