Danish TV drama “The Killing” was an international smash nearly 15 years ago, winning an International Emmy and a BAFTA award, and even spawning an English-language American adaptation that ran on AMC (and later, Netflix). But until this year, the original series had never been available in the United States.
“The Killing” (or, in Danish, “Forbrydelsen”) was added to boutique streaming service Topic in September. The streamer, owned by First Look Media and available in the U.S. and Canada, continues to grow its roster of international fare, having recently also added two more Scandinavian series: “The Bridge” (“Bron”) — which was also adapted as a U.S. drama on FX — and “Follow the Money” (“Bedrag”).
“The Killing” was lauded for its unique storytelling, which followed a Danish detective inspector (played by Sofie Gråbøl) as she solves a murder case. Each episode represents a day in the investigation. The show eventually made its way to more than 120 countries, mostly in the early part of the last decade.
The international success of “The Killing” foretold the globalization of worldwide TV hits hailing from all parts of the globe, not just the usual territories like the U.S. and the U.K. — predating the streaming revolution, which has made it much easier to watch such shows. Now, international hits such as Netflix’s “Squid Games” and “La Casa de Papel” have become more frequent.
“I think this is a perfect time to be releasing [these shows] and hopefully getting people who watched the U.S. version to see what inspired it,” says Topic general manager Ryan Chanatry.
International series, particularly those not in English (but even plenty that were) used to be nonstarters for U.S. broadcast and cable outlets, which preferred to focus on homegrown fare — and would only acquire Canadian or U.S. series when the shelves were empty due to a Hollywood strike or production shutdown. But there’s a new hunger now for global fare, especially now that U.S. audiences have shown a willingness to watch subtitled series.
“What we were excited about in launching Topic was to be a home for so many great series over the past five or ten years that never really came meaningfully or at all to the U.S., partially because the appetite wasn’t there, or there wasn’t anybody focused on looking and picking out what was available,” Chanatry says.
“Forbrydelsen” didn’t find a linear U.S. network interested in acquiring episodes back in the day. It was only recently that Danish production company DR ironed out streaming VOD rights and could start selling it worldwide — and that’s when Topic came calling.
“We were finally able to clear all rights at the end of 2020,” said DR sales executive Freja Johanne Nørgaard Sørensen. So we’ve only been selling the streaming rights for about six months, and we’ve seen a huge spike in interest.”
Streaming behemoths like Netflix are at the forefront of acquiring such new and library international titles. But a smaller upstart like Topic can tout the fact that it’s only looking for North American rights — unlike Netflix or Amazon, which look to do global licenses. For a distributor like DR, which is looking to maximize its dealmaking in each territory, that’s appealing.
That’s how the U.S. debut of “Forbrydelsen” wound up on Topic. “We had a lot of interest for ‘The Killing’ in the U.S. and Canada as well but we felt that Topic was the right fit for us from negotiating the contracts to delivery to everything,” says Nørgaard Sørensen. “We feel their passion and know what they’re going for which route they’re taking with your program.”
And now, with the global success of Netflix’s “Squid Game,” it continues to be a seller’s market for international fare that might have previously been overlooked in territories particularly like the U.S. “It’s been the perfect timing for us to release our titles,” she adds. “Catalog titles that are 10, 20 years old are all of a sudden a hot commodity. They’re getting the life they deserve.” And presumably, making a killing.