Shame is Transforming TV as we Know It
You may not have heard of “Skam” (Norwegian for “Shame”) yet, but trust me, you will hear a lot about in the future. Or at least, your kids will. Shame is a drama TV series, that is transforming the way people consume content. Showing that even traditional TV station can create content that resonates, and is delivered in a new and engaging format. Let me explain how.
In 2015, NRK (Norwegian state owned broadcaster) realised they had a niche audience they didn’t address in a relevant way. That audience was girls between 14 and 16 (very narrow niche, for sure). They had plenty of programs for children, and for older youth and adults. But this group of girls didn’t watch any of it. Any attempts in the past had failed, as the shows didn’t feel real, nor was it easy to create something engaging for a notoriously phone-centric audience, who were more interested in connecting with friends than watching TV. Enter a visionary screenwriter/producer/director named Julie Andem. Ms. Andem, is young, dynamic, and she clearly has sources in the youth groups and is willing to do the research (in fact, the show title came up during a focus group). Together with the in-house writing and production staff at NRK, they are producing one of the biggest TV show successes in Scandinavia at the moment.
Shame is a weekly drama series that’s released in “real-time”, meaning that if something on the show happens on Saturday night at 11 PM, they’ll release that clip (perhaps 3-7 minutes) on Saturday at 11. Then, maybe something happens at noon on Monday, and a new clip is released. Every time there’s a new clip, the fans get a notification on their phone, and can watch it immediately (or save it for later). At the end of the week, a 20-30 minute episode is released for linear TV or online viewing, but by then the kids have already seen it. Every clip and interaction is complimented by Facebook and Instagram posts from the characters, so that the story gets multiple levels – and it feels like there’s a conversation going on, just like in real life.
NY Times described it as “a racy, emotionally intense, true-to-life Norwegian web and television series, [that] follows a group of Oslo teenagers as they navigate sex, school, drinking, depression, rape, religion, coming out and the pains of status anxiety, in real life and online.” Which is pretty spot on. The series feature five main girls (and a growing number of boyfirends and supporting characters). The girls are somewhat outsiders, but not really. They represent different personalities, but are bound together by this idea that they are a little bit different. One of the girl wears a hijab (the actress Iman Meskini wears one in real life). Each season features a new lead character. First season belonged to Eva, the second to Noora, and the third season featured Isak, one of the boys, as the lead, and (spoiler alert), he comes out as gay during the season. It is extremely anchored in Norwegian reality. It features “russ” (a traditional graduation celebration that involves red or blue overalls and hats, pimped out busses, loud music, copious amounts of alcohol and sex. It’s a charming tradition.), Norwegian slang and multiple cultural references that really just make sense to the kids in Norway. But it wouldn’t stay like that for long. Soon the parent generation were watching, then it spread to Denmark (where thee language is similar to Norwegian, but with all the slang, difficult enough to understand, and there were no subtitles), Sweden soon followed suit, then Iceland, and then pretty much everyone in the Nordics were watching Skam and quoting Norwegian slang. The series also spread outside Scandinavia, as subtitle files (SRT) were being produced by Norwegian kids for an international market.
NRK has spent a lot of time trying to sell the concept to other broadcasters around the world, but it proved difficult for several reasons. First and foremost, the themes are so realistic and graphic, that many countries would hesitate to allow it being shown (at least not to 14-year-olds). Secondly, the references to Norwegian culture is so strong in the storyline, that most of it has to be completely rewritten for a local audience. And thirdly, and perhaps most interestingly, most TV channels don’t have the infrastructure to distribute the short clips in “real-time”. And this was an absolute demand from NRK.
Now, an English language version is being produced for the US/Canadian market, as Englishman Simon Fuller, the former manager of Spice Girls and the creator of Pop/American Idol, has cut a deal to produce “Shame”, and distribute it in the same way NRK did. And we will definitely see more shows like this. We are living in the “golden age of television”, but since the TV market is changing so rapidly, with linear viewerships falling every single day, broadcasters and production companies will be falling over themselves to capitalise on this opportunity. But it won’t be easy, because despite all the innovations and digital firsts in the Shame production and distribution model, the most important reason for its success is that it is real, relevant and captivating. Quality in entertainment will always be more important than the distribution model.
Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder and CEO of Acoustic Group.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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