Boutique Streamer Topic Greenlights Scandi Prison Doc; Sets Growth Path And Narrows Focus To Elevated Crime And Suspense

EXCLUSIVE: Boutique streamer Topic has greenlit a documentary about a Scandinavian prison project in the U.S. and acquired dramas from the UK, Finland and Russia, as it sets a path to growth for 2022 and narrows focus to “elevated crime and suspense.”

Alongside three Scandinavian broadcasters, First Look Entertainment’s SVoD has commissioned Prison Project: Little Scandinavia, exploring a Pennsylvania institution which is about to experiment with a Scandi-style approach to incarceration.

The unit will open early next year and the show will air a few months later, showcasing an approach for which inmates have to behave as good neighbors and treat everyone with respect and dignity. But how will a traditionally punitive prison system cope with this shift?

“Incarceration is such a massive social issue here and this series is a really great entrée into that for viewers,” Topic GM Ryan Chanatry told Deadline.

Topic is in a prime position to showcase these docs to a wider North American audience, added Chanatry, who wouldn’t disclose subscriber numbers but said the SVoD is growing month-on-month, avoiding the pitfall of poor churn.

“There are lots of shows that wouldn’t really resonate [in the U.S.] but this one takes a U.S. lens in a really interesting way, allowing viewers to see us reflected in something often considered ‘strange’ or ‘socialist’.”

Chanatry also unveiled a string of foreign drama acquisitions including UK Channel 4’s Deceit, Finnish series Pieces of my Heart and Russia’s Six Empty Seats, along with a second series of Germany’s Pagan Peak.

A second season of Elisa Viihde’s Arctic Circle is also coming soon, while Topic has North American rights to The Bridge and The Killing. Chanatry credits the latter with helping the streamer really make its mark when it was acquired last summer.

As Topic enters its third year, having mainly operated during the pandemic, the GM wants to narrow focus to “elevated crime and suspense.”

“There isn’t really a niche player in this space,” he said. “You’ve got procedurals like CSI and Law and Order on some services but outside of the big streamers you don’t have that real depth of titles if you love, say, The Bridge.”

Chanatry is also exploring how Topic can set itself apart by ordering shows that have elements of Scandi Noir, such as moral ambiguity or characterful landscapes, but aren’t necessarily crime shows.

While Netflix is outspending Topic to the point where it “makes my head explode,” added Chanatry, pointing to Dwayne Johnson pic Red Notice’s $200M budget, he praised the impact of the streamer’s non-English-language content such as Squid Game and Dark on the market, which is a positive for subs to non-English-language-friendly Topic.

“We can now say ‘From the creators of Dark’ when introducing Pagan Peak and some of these lead actors are really starting to break out,” he added. “This global shared language was not possible two-to-three years ago.”

For those who prefer shows in English, however, Topic is also preparing to roll out its Deepdub tech, the product of a tie-up with the Israeli tech firm, which will see all foreign language shows made available in English.

Chanatry believes this could be a game-changer for sub numbers, as viewers previously unwilling to watch shows in different languages are convinced to sign up.

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