New large-scale project on Vikings shows the potential for audio collaboration

Spring 2021 saw Nordvision hold the first ever audio pitch in the partnership’s history. Caroline Pouron, Head of Digital Content for Sveriges Radio, brought along a clear-cut idea which has since received Nordic fund support. Along with the broadcaster, she has now refined this idea of a joint public service venture: a drama documentary in podcast form, focusing on the Viking history shared across the Nordic region.

Bilde av Gustav Skarsgaard fra serien Vikings

Skådespelaren Gustaf Skarsgård kommer att göra berättarrösten i SR:s version av dramapodcasten om de största vikingalegenderna. Han är inte helt obekant i sammanhanget. Många minns säkert hans roll i HBO:s dramaserie ”Vikings”. Foto: Scanpix

Throughout our shared Nordic history, the Vikings have carved indelible marks that run long and deep. They represent a violent, yet hugely fascinating era, and in some sense a linkage in the chain of Nordic fates stretching far back in time.

Annual Report 2021

This article is part of the overview of the past year of Nordic collboration.

För skandinavisk version av artikeln, klicka här.

From the very start, SR’s Caroline Pouron believed that the idea of a major and extensive feature on Viking history was a natural fit for Nordic cooperation.

Vikings will be a mixture of drama and documentary, with each episode focusing on a famous Viking. It requires a narrator’s voice that is both engaging and well-known. For the Swedish Radio version, actor Gustaf Skarsgård is ready to take on this role.

”The history of the Vikings really is our shared history. It’s grand and surrounded by myths, and it has already been told in many different ways. At the same time, we felt that what makes the Vikings’ history so powerful on the whole is how it is founded on true events. These things actually happened, even if we can’t possess all the details,” Caroline Pouron explains.

Caroline Pouron, Head of Digital Content for Sveriges Radio, came up with the idea of a joint project on the Vikings. In spring 2021, the project received development support of EUR 15,000 from the Nordvision Fund with DR, NRK and RUV as partners. Photo: SR. 

Gunhild Nymoen, Head of Audio Drama with NRK, agrees. Both NRK and Icelandic broadcaster RUV are developing their own versions of SR’s concept.

”We know that our potential listeners have an interest in history, and we believe that this may reach a younger audience who like to have an audio series in their headphones when they exercise, travel etc. We’re specifically looking for drama based on real events, so this project fits into the NRK Audio Drama strategy,” says Gunhild Nymoen.

Actor Gustaf Skarsgård will narrate SR’s version of a drama podcast focused on the greatest Viking legends. He is not entirely unfamiliar with this context. No doubt he will be recognised by many from his role in HBO drama series Vikings. Photo: X. 

Very much a public service project

Caroline Pouron points out that this project has a very public service feel to it.

”Sveriges Radio is one of the strongest content producers for podcasts in Sweden. We have managed to keep our position, not least because we have worked so purposefully on further developing the podcast format as well as focusing on where our real strength lies: in the telling of stories.”

We stay for a moment with the notion of audio drama. This is a difficult concept, and possibly the most difficult content-related task of all, according to Caroline Pouron.

”It can easily become ’silly’, and that’s a daily struggle for us in this production. What we’ve learned about audio drama, not least through our production P3 Serie, is that the premise must be easy to grasp. The most important thing is to keep it clear and straightforward,” Caroline Pouron says. She also explains that SR’s most recent major drama venture, Före-Efter, continued the tradition of having a clear narrative.

For Caroline Pouron, taking her Vikings idea to Nordvision felt like a natural choice.

”The first time I thought about Vikings, I wanted to do it as a Nordic project. So that was part of the idea from the very start. There is real power in the fact that our public service providers work together in the areas that are our special strengths. For example, I know that NRK do a lot of work on drama. The idea of working together just felt so right.”

In some sense, the Vikings project will serve as an example of how the Nordic collaboration can also apply to audio content. Gunhild Nymoen from NRK highlights the fact that Sveriges Radio will provide the soundscape.

”It’s incredibly exciting to test this kind of collaboration, where we not only receive a shared script, but also a soundscape delivered in ’finished form’, which then has to fit into the Norwegian concept. This is a working method that we haven’t tried before,” Gunhild Nymoen says.

Ways to evaluate Vikings as a Nordic collaborative project, as suggested by NRK:

  • How did the collaboration work between the different broadcasters?
  • How did Vikingar capture the listeners?
  • What do the listeners think of this as a way to tell a good story?
  • What do they think about the soundscape and the use of music?
  • Is this a concept that we imagine could evolve into further seasons, drawing on other historical eras?
  • When and how do the listeners use this?

A Nordic signal of strength

Caroline Pouron explains that even the marketing is supposed to be coordinated on a pan-Nordic level. The fact that this is a public service collaboration must be clear for all – a signal of strength to the outside world.

She would like to see the continued exploration of opportunities for audio collaboration in a Nordvision context: how can we work together in more systematic ways in those areas where we are particularly strong?

”After all, the podcast tradition might look quite similar if you compare the Nordic countries, and that’s also what makes collaboration an easy choice. At Sveriges Radio, we’re also extending this idea through cooperation with the Sveriges Radio Symphony Orchestra, where we’re planning a concert. Having our own orchestra is one of the elements that make us public service, and now we’re looking into ways of harnessing that fact,” Caroline Pouron says.

It’s incredibly exciting to test this kind of collaboration

Gunhild Nymoen of NRK. Photo: Ole Kaland, NRK

NRK are definitely keen on more Nordic collaboration on audio, Gunhild Nymoen confirms. Actually, already at this stage NRK have several projects under development on subjects which are also relevant in the other Nordic countries.

”In a Nordic context, we also have a common strategy where we aim to reach a younger and new audience. What is completely new for Vikings is that we also get a complete soundscape – and this in itself presents more opportunities. Furthermore, we believe we’ll gain from sharing experiences with private production companies as well as with our public service colleagues in order to reach our shared goal, which is to increase interest in audio drama in podcast form,” says Gunhild Nymoen.

THE FACTS: “Vikings”

Vikings received development support of EUR 15,000 from the Nordvision Fund in spring 2021, with SR as the main producer and DR, NRK and RUV as partners.

Episodes: 8 x 30 minutes. Planned premiere: Spring 2022.

Sveriges Radio will provide the script and soundscape to broadcasters producing their own versions. SR will also ensure that all countries have the rights to featured music. Sound effects and ”brief extras” will be provided in different Nordic languages. SR will produce a graphic profile for this production as well as visual trailers for social media, where the language can be changed.

There are also plans to coordinate marketing efforts for greater Nordic impact.