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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 21 May, 2002, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Norway shows public TV model
Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit
The marriage of Crown Prince Haakon and Mette-Marit has captured Norway

Welcome to Norway.

There are few things for which this country on Europe's northern edge is famous.

Fjords and fishing come to mind, but little else.


Norway is one of the most nationalistic countries in Europe, and Norwegians like television shows that reflect that

But it deserves to be better known for two things: its monarchy, one of Europe's more entertaining, and the fact that the local equivalent of the BBC (unusually among the continent's smaller nations) is actually doing rather well.

As a general rule, public service broadcasters round the world are doing rather badly.

New commercial competitors have started up and lured audiences away with slick, mass market programming.

Exceptions

Governments have started to question public funding (whether from licence fees or state subsidies) for channels which are losing audiences - especially if the public stations fight back by going down the same populist route as their commercial rivals.

But there are exceptions to every rule and Norway looks like one of them.

The Norwegian state broadcaster, NRK, is flourishing despite competition from one very successful commercial rival, TV2, and two smaller ones, TV3 and TV Norge. (Its second channel, NRK2, is devoted to minority and cultural programmes from all over Europe.)

Its success may have something to do with money.

Norway, thanks to North Sea oil, is a rich country.

Norwegian households pay a TV licence fee of 1775 kroner a year (roughly 160), giving NRK an annual income of around 270 million.

Modern

There are new buildings under construction at its Oslo headquarters.

The news department is housed in an airy modern building with lots of glass where TV, radio and online journalists work side by side.

Temptation Island
TV Norge refused to show Temptation Island
Superficially it resembles the BBC's news factory at Television Centre in London, with one big difference: there seems to be four times as much space per person.

In Kristiansand in the far south of the country it is the same story: the local bureau is one of seven regional TV and radio opt outs (there are another ten radio-only).

The studios and offices are modern and well-equipped, with views over Kristiansand's historic waterfront.

Schedules

NRK's comparative wealth is reflected in the number of locally-produced programmes it carries.

The schedules of TV3 and TV Norge offer little but sport and one US-made series or movie after another - and each achieves an audience share of ten per cent of less.

Even Big Brother, currently in its second series, and another sexy reality programme, Temptation Island, have failed to lift TV Norge's ratings.

TV Norge's chief executive was recently sacked, ostensibly for refusing to schedule Temptation Island, and replaced by an American appointed by the channel's US owners.

NRK1 by contrast achieved a 38% share in 2000, against TV2's 32%.

Locally-made entertainment programmes have proved especially popular.

Human interest

In one recent week NRK's top programme, a chat show, won almost a million viewers - not at all bad for a country with a total population of just 4.2 million.

It was closely followed in the top 10 by a local version of Have I Got News for You, by magazine shows with human interest stories from around the country, and by a Norwegian crime drama.

Only one imported programme featured - the UK's Heartbeat.

TV2 scores equally heavily with local programmes - a soap (Hotel Caesar), a sitcom, chat shows and another satire programme.

Glued

Norway is one of the most nationalistic countries in Europe, and Norwegians like television shows that reflect that.

This week half the country will be glued to NRK's coverage of the country's royal wedding: Princess Martha-Louise, daughter of the King and Queen, is marrying a celebrity husband, a writer and "professional dandy" called Ari Behn.

Her brother, Crown Prince Haakon, recently married a blonde bombshell of his own, Mette-Marit, an unmarried mother with a four-year old son by a convicted drug dealer - pictures of this Princess Diana of the Fjords were on every front page last week.

As NRK has found, viewers like nothing so much as home-made programmes about home-made subjects (including royalty) - provided broadcasters can afford to make them.

A version of this column appears in the BBC magazine Ariel.

The BBC's Nick Higham writes on broadcasting

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07 May 02 | Entertainment
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