AUFF IDEAS project: What Makes Danish TV Drama Series Travel? Drama series as cultural export, cross-national production and reception in a global world

Project: Research

Project Details


1.Description of the idea, background and context.
The recent international success of Danish TV drama series such as The Killing (Forbrydelsen, DR1), Borgen (DR1) and The Bridge (Broen, DR1 & SVT1) marks an interesting shift in the practices and values of Danish national TV drama production, and it is this shift that will constitute the focal point of our research project. Especially the popularity in Great Britain of the first series of The Killing in its original Danish version marked a shift for Danish TV drama (Frost, 2011a & 2011b; Crimetime Preview, 2011; Nielsen, 2012a-e). With the series’ cult-like status with British viewers and critics alike, it became apparent that Danish TV had something to offer even to one of the most impenetrable TV markets in the world. So far, The Killing has been sold in over 120 different television markets and other Danish series have subsequently proved highly saleable in foreign markets as both canned programming and formats for local adaptation. The success, however, has not happened over-night, but is a result of two-decade long strategy on behalf of DR’s Drama Division to open up to international markets and win international prizes, all of which has certainly been achieved.
Thus, Danish drama series have become international commodities alongside TV content from other countries and entered into a creative industry in which global market mechanisms pertaining to distribution and funding rule (Eichner, Mikos & Winter, 2013; Weissmann 2012, Esser, 2010; Rittenhofer, 2013; Waade 2011, 2013). Besides, Danish public service broadcasting is in a process of internationalizing (Jensen, 2013; Nielsen, 2012c, d, e) and operating according to market principles. An example of this is that German (Waade 2010b) and recently also American broadcasters partly finance of the Danish series, making Danish drama production rely on foreign money to a larger degree than before.
Research question
In a methodological combination of textual analyses of a selection of internationally successful Danish drama series, empirical studies of the production practices and business models behind the series, and empirical reception studies of how German and British audiences read the Danish series, we want to investigate precisely why and how Danish TV drama currently is enjoying an unprecedented increase in exports.
To answer the research question, our project takes four main approaches:
a)An aesthetic view on the different cultural approaches to mainstream, blockbuster, quality and art TV, as well as the series’ perceived exoticism pertaining to Danish and Nordic locations, climate and cultures.
b)A production study to explain which specific production cultures, quality concepts and production values are in play.
c)A business model study of the various strategies for co-producing, funding and exporting.
d)An explorative reception study on how audiences in Germany and Great Britain read the series.
Theoretically, our focus is on how the international success of the Danish drama series can be seen as challenging long-held theoretical ‘truths’ within international media research. One of these is that English is seen as ‘the language of advantage’ (Collins 1989); another is the ‘cultural discount’ theory stating that exported programmes always experience certain depreciation outside their home markets due to their cultural strangeness (McFadyen et al.). Another theoretical approach is the idea of ‘medium concept’ production values (Nestingen 2008) that describe the way Nordic film and TV production integrate the region’s tradition of auteur cinema with genre cinema’s style and marketing tools (Waade 2010a, 2013, Jensen & Waade 2013). Related terms are ‘high concept’ in film (Wyatt, 1995) and ‘quality TV’ (Nelson, 2007), describing film and TV productions that include certain aesthetics, marketing strategies and market shares. Consequently, ‘Nordic Noir’ has become a valuable brand and Danish series’ exotic settings and everyday life become part of the attraction for foreign viewers and maybe even deliberate promotional tools for Danish broadcasters when marketing the series internationally (Thorsen 2013, Povlsen 2010, Waade 2013).
The project’s relation to existing research, importance and perspectives
As is evident from the above, a thorough investigation of our research question calls for a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary methodologies and theories across media, culture, economy and business studies. At Aarhus University, we undertake internationally acknowledged research within all of the above mentioned academic areas, and our project is likely to further contribute to these areas. Additionally, production and audience studies require research undertaken at the same time as the series are produced and consumed and therefore demand research initiatives and collaborations right now. As Danish researchers, we can benefit from the thorough knowledge and easy access to the media culture, production companies and their international co-producers.
Supporting materials and methods
We shall focus on selected TV drama series that represent different production concepts and business models (The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge, Dicte and a new HBO/DR co-production currently under development). The project will be carried out in close relation to Danish production companies and broadcasters as well as research partners in Germany and Great Britain (see listing below). They are to help us recruit interview respondents and summarise the interviews. These affiliated researchers are all internationally recognised and have undertaken trans-national audience research and research into international co-productions and TV formats. Thus, our team is not only ambitious but also highly qualified to successfully carry out a future international, collaborative research funding application.
2.Description of the novelty of the idea
That Danish TV drama series travel internationally is a significant development that deserves immediate academic attention as it indicates radical new practices and values within Danish national TV production. Moreover, the cross-national and interdisciplinary empirical study that we propose does not exist so far.
In relation to the concepts of ‘cultural discount’ and ‘language of advantage’, the study will bring new and valuable insight on cultural, market and production dynamics of creative industries. The project’s ambition of developing four main approaches includes new methodological, theoretical and analytical insights across disciplines and countries. The investigation is carried out in order to discuss the schisms involved when a public service broadcaster – whose traditional obligations arguably pertain to the national sphere – becomes a player in the international market for television content, but also how new business models, production values and private media companies are challenging the field. Internationalization is a key to understanding the current changes within the industry.
Additionally, production studies is a new and emergent research field within the study of media and creative industries and Media Studies in Aarhus is playing a significant role in the development of this new field both nationally and internationally. With our project, we shall mark AU as the centre for national research on the internationalization of Danish TV drama with regards to financing, production, distribution, marketing and reception as part of a global creative industry and cultural export; and we shall initiate a network of creative industry partners in Denmark and international research network.
3. Description of the objectives.
Our project encompasses international workshops, empirical studies and publications investigating different aspects of the export of Danish TV drama. In addition, it is our ambition to prepare for an international collaborative research project application on small countries’ export of TV drama series in an international and global media culture, including empirical cross-cultural comparative studies and Ph.D. and postdoc scholarships.
Research team & profiles:
The research team include four researchers from AU:
Jakob Isak Nielsen (JIN): Danish and American TV drama series culture, aesthetics and production system
Pia Majbritt Jensen (PMJ): cross-national TV formats, media policy and audience studies
Iris Rittenhofer (IR): global communication, cross-national markets and enterprises, cross-national comparative studies, culture economy
International Research Collaborators
Germany: Professor Dr. Lothar Mikos, HFF, Berlin.
UK: Dr. Andrea Esser at Roehampton University, London
Effective start/end date01/01/201431/12/2015


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