Ryan Chanatry, the General Manager of Topic, chatted with me about the SVOD service and what folks can look forward to watching on the streamer in the weeks and months ahead.
The first time I had the pleasure of chatting with Ryan Chanatry, Topic had just passed the six-month mark as an SVOD service. Now we’re three months away from its second anniversary as a streamer of programs from across the globe. So Ryan and I reconnected, this time via Zoom, to catch up on what’s happening at Topic and what the up-and-coming player in the international TV space has in store for audiences in the US and Canada.
At the moment we’re in the thick of Topic’s “Summer of Suspense,” which kicked off back in May with the North American premiere of the German true-crime mystery series Dark Woods. Then, after its debut of the second season of the hit Russian drama An Ordinary Woman, Topic launched all three seasons of Danish crime drama Follow the Money as a streaming exclusive, followed by all four seasons of the smash Nordic noir hit The Bridge (Bron/Broen), whose final season was made available last week for streaming on this side of the Atlantic again, also exclusively on Topic. Up next: the series that arguably put Scandi noir on the map outside of the Nordic countries: The Killing.
Many a North American fan of Euro TV has been waiting more than a decade for the original Danish version of The Killing (Forbrydelsen) to be shown here, so with its premiere on Topic next week, I asked Ryan if they’ve seen an uptick in the number of subscribers since the “Summer of Suspense” started. (Text has been edited for clarity.)
RC: “Yeah, we’ve definitely seen a slow and building interest as people become more aware and familiar that we exist. I mean that’s clearly one of the challenges as a new brand, a new niche brand, in the noise of all of the other services. When I look at your release blog posts you do every month, I’m just sometimes floored with the number of series that are being announced across all of the different services. There’s so much activity, but we are really excited about the ‘Summer of Suspense.’ One of the reasons we wanted to launch the service to begin with was to bring — we’d hoped at that time that we might be able to bring Borgen, but Netflix scooped that up. But we knew The Killing was still in a similar space and hadn’t been released here, so it’s really a thrill to see that come true two plus years after thinking about what would be the type of series we’d be reaching for. So I think it’s a great time for us. We’re seeing that discovery by our audience, and we’re really thrilled to get through The Bridge and into the rest of the slate for the following part of the year.”
With Topic having brought the Spanish dramedy Merlí back to streaming, and having introduced US and Canadian viewers to the French political comedy Parlement, amongst other titles, can we look forward to seeing those shows’ subsequent seasons?
RC: “Parlement, for sure we’ll have Season 2. I think it will be sometime next year. We don’t have a specific date for it yet. So that is coming, as is [French comedy-drama] Irresponsible. I think Season 2 will come out this year and then we have Season 3 next year. Merlí is an interesting one cos the show takes a different direction a little bit after Season 1, so we haven’t decided yet if we’re gonna bring the subsequent episodes in. But we’d definitely like to based on how people are engaging with it, and we’ll be assessing that over the rest of this year and then deciding… Season 2 sort of continues but then Season 3, I believe, takes a direction where they focus more on some portion of the students, so it becomes a little more young adult feeling. Yeah, [it’s] definitely a great one and we’re happy to have it on.
Going into Topic’s two-year anniversary, will the streamer hit its subscriber goals?
RC: “Yeah, we’ve stayed on or ahead of our plans, and we really feel like the main challenge to tackle here is awareness. We know these shows are loved and have big audiences over in other markets and/or have had people looking for them here for a long time, like we suspect with The Killing, so what we’re really focused on, now that we have our slate and our brand more fully defined coming out of launch, we just want to get the word out and really make sure that people who love to experience shows [from] outside the US know that we’re around. And people who are being exposed to those series on HBO and Netflix and wanna go deeper, we want them to know that we have some of the best known, some of the ones that started a lot of the trends, especially noir. We’re really excited about how other countries are sort of taking on Nordic noir. Dark Woods is a great example of a German noir version. So we wanna grow more quickly, of course. I think all services do. And we really feel like as we get into The Killing and into the rest of the titles, and we continue to refine how we market, we’ll be more well known in the circles of people, viewers who love these types of series.”
Do you have any plans to make a big splash to celebrate Topic’s two-year anniversary? Perhaps a promotion like the “Tour the World from Your Couch” one last year?
RC: “Yeah, we’re gonna do a similar promotion over the summer. I don’t have the exact dates, but we can follow up, probably around mid-August into Sept. So we’ll do a version of that around the ‘Summer of Suspense.’ Yeah, two years will be in November. We’d love to celebrate in some way. We also have the second season of one of our original shows, [US drama thriller] The Accidental Wolf, coming out around that time, so we may look to do something with that series at the two-year mark.”
With so many streaming services focusing on international expansion, are there any plans to go beyond the US and Canada for Topic?
RC: “Yeah, we’re always thinking about it and looking at the landscape, but I think we really want to focus now on the US and Canada… with building that awareness, bringing the types of series from the past into the future that audiences hadn’t been able to experience. And as we continue to get really great at that, we’ll have a better sense of where there might be opportunities elsewhere.
“I could definitely see us looking into maybe South America in some way as a start. I think we’re seeing growing interest in the wider range of foreign TV and the options coming into those markets. Europe is an interesting destination for us, because so many of our titles currently come from there, so we would really have to figure out how to position the brand as we expand, cos it will mean something when we’re in markets that are not English speaking first, and also where some of the shows originate.
“Obviously we have American shows now, and British shows and Australian shows. We get requests now from people who are looking to subscribe in markets we’re not in, so that’s encouraging and exciting. And I think as we expand our slate, as we really tackle finding great series from Asia, from South America, from Africa, which we’re doing a big push on, it will make the platform more globally relevant, and then we can look at expanding.”
Speaking of British programming, how are things going with the ITV co-production The Missing Children (w/t) (about the Irish mother and baby home scandal in Ireland)?
RC: “We are in the beginning of the creative process with the team. We think it’s going nicely and we hope to dig into that in the next few months. I think we’ll be premiering that sometime early next year, but we’re really excited about that series in particular cos we love the true-crime angle and the intersection of justice, of covering a subject matter that is so critical that it gets exposure and doing it in a way that is respectful and very elevated. So we’re excited for that team’s take on this. I think it’s extremely of-the-moment, as well, as you see in Canada and in other parts of Ireland, more of sort of the religious intersection is being unearthed and reckoned with. So we love this as a series for us because it does do that reckoning and it does play a role in helping people understand what happened and how we might be able to repair some of that, and also recognize it, right? Just know that these things did happen and that they can’t be covered up moving forward.”
Are there plans to do more co-productions between Topic and international producers?
RC: “Yeah, we really hope so. We aspire to work with — we’re thrilled about ITV, we aspire to work with Sky and SBS, and hopefully expand our relationship with places like Keshet and Studio Canal and ZDF. I think a lot of these places where we’ve been bringing their series into the US, we would love to partner and work with them earlier on new originals. We’re actively looking for those, considering those. We’re pretty selective in that space, but we do think it’s one of the ways that we can keep defining and positioning ourselves, because those series tend not to be able to go as easily to the larger streamers. So we’re able to bring something like The Missing Children into this market because of the uniqueness of us being only in the US and Canada right now. So that’s another advantage we have at the moment, in that working with European, African, Asian partners who don’t want to do global deals, we’re a really, really good choice in that sense.”
Back to the “Summer of Suspense.” After The Killing, the next big thing is the North American launch of Russian mystery drama Dead Mountain, whose real-life story is “crazy”!
RC: “Yeah, it’s a wild one. And wait ‘til you watch the series, cos I think you’re really going to be blown away. We’ve got so much great stuff coming out this year, but Dead Mountain, I think in particular, is just an amazing story, amazing way that they brought it to screen — a great intersection of the types of things we know our audience loves, true-crime at its core, shot beautifully. I think we’re seeing this surge in Russian series right now… We’ve been really excited to see some of the choices. We have another couple coming after Dead Mountain, which we’ll be announcing, so there really is a great stream of great work happening. And I think Dead Mountain is just gonna take everyone by surprise because it is of the sort of Pagan Peak, The Bridge feeling, and just such an unusual landscape, story, the intersection with the other parts of the pull into the storytelling. So we’re very excited about it.
“It’s in this continuing vein of other markets exploring what makes noir television and what can become unique to their market. I’m fascinated about that conceptual expansion outside of the Nordic region. And while not everything that is coming in from Spain or Germany or France necessarily fits the Nordic noir definition to a tee, I think something like Dead Mountain is an interesting series to examine alongside those, and kind of look at the similarities and differences in how different film-making teams and different countries are approaching these stories. So I’m excited for it. In that sense, as I mentioned, just the way that it’s filmed, it’s beautiful and unique. And the Dyatlov Pass incident has gotten so much attention from The Times, from so many true-crime podcasts, from true-crime communities — to see it fictionalized in this way, I think, is gonna be really intriguing and interesting for so many people. It’s got all of the great pieces you want in a story.”
In closing, Ryan offered this about Topic to fans of Euro TV and international TV:
RC: “We really appreciate the support of the community, and the more of them who can join and subscribe, the better job we can do of continuing to bring these types of series to the US and Canada. As part of First Look Media, we are an interesting venture in that we’re looking to build a sustainable business long term, and we think that this is a great way to serve a niche and be an interesting and exciting part of someone’s TV life. But we need that support.
“And we also love feedback, so we encourage, especially readers of your blogs, to tell us what they’d like to see on Topic, what they’re enjoying, what they’re not. We take all of that to heart and we do use it to decide the direction we’re going in.”
For folks who would like to provide feedback about programming to Topic (or to get help with an issue), use the form on the “contact support” page under the “help” section of the Topic website, or email them at “support (at) topic (dot) com.”
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