When 69 people were shot dead in Norway in July, Sweden’s television stations began streaming Norway’s TV channels. For Göran Ellung it was yet more evidence that Sweden needs a 24-hour news channel of its own. “We think it’s strange that it doesn’t already exist. In Denmark and Norway these kinds of channels have existed for some years now, and they’re doing well.” At the end of October Ellung will get the chance to prove that he’s right. TV4-Gruppen, Sweden’s leading commercial television station, will launch the country’s first 24-hour news channel, and Ellung will be its figurehead. There’s still no name, but at TV4’s Stockholm studios there’s a belief that the channel will find an audience.
Unlike CNN or Al Jazeera, France 24 or Russia Today, it will not be about giving the rest of the world a Swedish angle but about ensuring Swedes don’t get a “rest of the world” view. The majority of the programmes will be produced in Sweden, although Ellung also plans to hook up with an international partner who can provide foreign content.
“Getting the news delivered in your own language and from your country’s perspective gives a whole different experience. It’s about how you’re spoken to and it’s about news selection,” he says, sitting in his office with Sky News rolling in the background.
In a large landscape newsroom next to Ellung’s office, journalists are hard at work on the evening’s news and current affairs programmes. The TV4 building is situated just outside the city centre in Gärdet, Stockholm’s media centre, where the rival public service broadcaster SVT also has its headquarters. Here, from TV4’s recently updated shiny red and white studio, the channel broadcasts one of the country’s most watched news shows. Swedes are a nation of active news consumers. The leading news shows – SVT’s matter-of-fact Rapport and the more laid-back TV4Nyheterna – gather top ratings, and 70 per cent of the population read a newspaper every day.
Still, a previous attempt to start a news channel in this country failed just a few years ago. In 1999, Sweden’s public service broadcaster SVT launched a 24-hour news channel under the name of SVT24. But in 2008, the company had to cut its losses and admit that the channel wasn’t drawing enough viewers. Today, although operating under the same name, its programming consists of reruns of popular series, news and sports.
Ellung believes that SVT24 lacked the pulse of a news channel. “Much of the airtime was spent in a studio and many programmes felt like feature shows. That doesn’t work today. Even analysis and commentary must be delivered with a nerve, directly from the site of events,” he says. “The trick is to be updated. We won’t be airing sofa debates or conferences.” TV4, which also runs a news channel on the internet, is certain that the traditional TV format has an important role.
Ellung expects the channel to get a 3 to 4 per cent share of the Swedes’ total television viewing, and with big news events, significantly more than that. “The base is going to be middle-aged viewers. Those are the big news consumers. We want to reach a younger audience as well, but they move around more,” he says.
An overview of the year so far shows that, at least, the news channel won’t be short on subjects to report on. “The advantage with a news channel is that in the end, it is for everyone – when something big happens, we’re all interested.”
TV2: why it works
TV2 News is a Danish media success story. It attracts almost five per cent of viewers aged between 21 and 50 and has won awards for its reporting and analysis. The editorial facilities are in Copenhagen, and the channel broadcasts live mostly between 06.00 and midnight. During the day, airtime is filled with fast-paced news reports, often with political commentators shedding light on the day’s agenda. In the evening, more time is given to longer interviews with guests and analysis with experts. Some press conferences are broadcast live with a following studio discussion. On the weekends, more room is given to sports. Like Norway’s TV2, the channel is financed with commercials and satellite subscription fees.
If you want to have a voice in the world, show and share your influence, get people to see things from your perspective and be taken seriously you can either commission an aircraft carrier – or you can call up some news consultants, purchase a dozen Ikegami cameras, buy up some satellite time and launch your very own news channel.
Very fortunate (read wealthy) countries have been at this game for a long time and have both the boat and the channels (the US and UK). Some are playing catch-up – France had the aircraft carriers but only launched network France24 a few years ago. Others are just getting into the game – China’s got the channel but not the big boat while Australia’s building up its news presence and also awaiting a pair of vessels that are aircraft carriers in everything but name. And then there are others who have decided that a channel is all you need to grab headlines and get people the world over to know the name of your capital city, as Qatar’s Al Jazeera has done by anchoring most of its programmes out of Doha.
With the world increasingly divided into spheres of influence dominated by major news brands (CNN in the Americas, Al Jazeera across the Middle East and increasingly beyond, the BBC in Africa and India, and China attempting to become a player wherever it can buy a number on a cable channel) the Nordic region might want to consider its own dedicated network to deliver an editorial agenda that reflects a more Swedish perspective on diplomacy, Danish angle on human rights, Norwegian spin on social welfare and Finnish version of peace-making.
Given that all of these countries have a command of English that’s arguably as strong as Canada’s or Australia’s and have long traditions of fair and accurate reporting, a hybrid public/private entity might be just the broadcast news organisation that’s missing in a galaxy of networks that are too often caught up in an all too predictable news cycle. So convinced are we by the concept that we went and designed such a station way back in issue 02 of Monocle – reach into your archive to take a peek.
Norway has three newspapers with a circulation of more than 100,000
In 2010, internet passed television as Norwegians’ most important news source
The top rating for Sweden’s biggest news show ‘Rapport’ was 1.7 million in 2010
71.5 per cent of Swedes listen to radio at least five minutes per day. Almost 50 per cent of them prefer Sveriges Radio, the public service broadcaster
Finland has five newspapers with a circulation of more than 100,000
Finns love radio: the average household has six devices capable of listening to the radio, including mobile phones and computers
Denmark’s biggest newspaper, ‘Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten’, currently has a circulation of 99,032
The model for 24-hour news
Norway’s TV2 Nyhetskanalen went on air in January 2007. Its headquarters are in Bergen, the country’s second-biggest city, but there is also a newsroom in Oslo, from where much of the daily reporting is done. Live broadcasting starts with news every morning at 06.30, and continues until 23.30, mixing general news, business and sports coverage. At night, the channel shows a “news loop”, with reruns from the day’s news flow.
Paid for with subscription fees and adverts, TV2’s ratings have been growing steadily and it now averages at just over two per cent of total viewers. July’s terror attacks in Oslo and the island of Utøya, however, caused a peak in the figures. On the Friday the attacks happened, the channel had an all-day share of 7.9 per cent.