The crisis hit the media industry hard, but some top Nordic media are showcasing success stories thanks to their focus on innovative business models. 

Over the past two weeks, strong results were reported by Schibsted, one of the largest Scandinavian media groups, as well as Dagens Nyheter, a top newspaper in Sweden.

While Sweden and Norway were largely spared the pandemic’s worst excesses, the Nordic countries have nevertheless witnessed an economic downturn on a scale similar to that of other developed nations. Yet recent reports suggest some of the region’s top media companies are managing to sail through the recession with encouraging business results.

One of the region’s preeminent media holdings is Schibsted, which controls dozens of outlets, most notably in Norway and Sweden but also in Denmark and Finland. 

While the group witnessed a decrease in year-on-year revenue in the first months of the pandemic, its bet on booming subscriptions and podcasts later paid off.

Last week, Schibsted reported that its digital user revenue has for the first time passed “a magic number” of NOK 1 billion per year (some $105 million, or €90 million). The group reports having 830,000 digital subscribers for its outlets in Sweden and Norway. This looks particularly impressive when you consider the two countries’ combined populations are just over 15 million.

Schibsted says they are encouraged by the Scandinavians’ high willingness to pay for online news and compares their successes to those of The New York Times (which has 7 times more digital subscribers than all of Schibsted’s outlets but operates on a much larger market). 

Schibsted’s other focus is developing a podcast ecosystem. The company now produces around 40 podcasts in Norway, according to Digiday

One of Schibsted’s most popular podcasts, Forklart (“Explained”), is edging towards a milestone 1 million episodes streamed weekly. (Its American counterpart “The Daily” boasts more than 2 million people tuning in daily — but, again, in a much bigger country than Norway).

To optimize its business model, Schibsted has developed its own podcast platform. While revenue from podcasts is relatively small, it’s growing rapidly — Schibsted expects podcast ad revenue to increase by 50% in 2020.

Dagens Nyheter, arguably Sweden’s most prominent newspaper and an important competitor to Schibsted on the Swedish newspaper market, has also seen notable successes with digital subscriptions revenue.

Financial Times reports that Dagens Nyheter is “on course for its best financial performance this century, thanks to a rise in digital subscriptions since the start of the pandemic”. According to the paper, they expect operating profit to rise by around 50% this year — to about SEK 180 million ($20 million, or €17 million).

Digital subscribers have been the key reason for these results. Dagens Nyheter has successfully utilized the rising interest in news in the pandemic’s early days to convert free readers into paying subscribers. The paper is increasingly pivoting from the ad-based model to the subscription model, and its recent performance has enabled it to expand staff.

Nor is Dagens Nyheter alone. Another Sweden-based media group — The Local — has hit a record of 30,000 paying subscribers, showing a 130% increase since the beginning of the year, according to the group’s CEO James Savage. Headquartered in Stockholm, The Local operates English-language news websites for nine European countries.

Main photo: Gunnar Hillbo, public domain