3.2 Slow TV

The purpose of this research task was to look at the Slow TV genre and assess it’s value so that it can be considered within the discussion about slowness and pace.

Key words from the brief:

  • Search for and document some examples of Slow TV and record your thoughts on the genre in your log
  • What are some of the arguments for and against this kind of real-time viewing?

What is Slow TV?

In his article for the New Yorker, Nathan Heller defines the genre: “Slow TV is slow compared only with normal broadcast timetables. It runs not at the warp speed of narrative drama but at the rate of actual experience. It is not scripted or heavily edited; it is more concerned with movement than with tension, contrast, or character” (Heller, 2014).

He argues that the purpose of Slow TV is to provide a backdrop that provides the viewer with a mental space to reflect, as opposed to other forms of TV that exist to entertain or inform. In other words, traditional TV needs less active viewer engagement. Slow TV is therefore a kind of anti-entertainment.

Examples of Slow TV

In 2009,  Norwegian Public Service Broadcaster NRK started an uninterrupted broadcast of a 7-hour 16-minute train journey between Oslo and Bergen. The programme titled Bergensbanen: minutt for minutt (2009) tracked the journey across mountains and forests in real time. It turned out to have the highest viewing figures for any programme on NRK2, with 30% of Norwegians tuning in at some point. in parallel to the live TV broadcast, viewers used Twitter to chat.

NRK Bergensbanen minutt for minutt
Fig 1 – Bergensbanen: minutt for minutt (2009)

Two years later, on 16th June 2011 NRK aired another marathon TV broadcast. This time an uninterrupted broadcast of a 134-hour boat trip from Bergen to Kirkenes. The broadcast ended on 22nd June.

The BBC are broadcasting a 2-hour boat trip down the Kennet and Avon Canal, from Top Lock in Bath to the Dundas Aqueduct on 12th July 2020. The programme notes say that “Along the journey, graphics and archive stills embedded into the passing landscape deliver salient facts about the canal and its social history” (2020). This is an interesting variation on the NRK broadcasts, where the pace of the programme remains the same but where the programme makers are adding more content (albeit very subtly), to provide a level of editorial entertainment. Arguably this hybrid is not really Slow TV.

Another interesting innovation was an advert for a Samsung washing machine that featured a three-minute shot of washing machine cycle. It was aired during an ad break between an episode of Gogglebox, and took up the whole slot. Mark Seaman, head of domestic appliances, Samsung UK & Ireland, said: “this commercial shines a spotlight on the ‘performance’ of the machine itself to create a mesmerising spectacle where art meets technology.” (Gywnn, 2017).

Samsung Ad
Fig 2 – Samsung QuickDrive: still from the ad (2017)

Arguments for and against this kind of real-time viewing

For

  • NRK answered the question of why broadcast a 6-day boat trip? by saying: “programmes like this aren’t economically feasible for a commercial channel; to a large amount of the public it probably seems completely useless, but to some of our viewers it can have a very high value, be something they wouldn’t get in any other way, and in twenty or two hundred years, it will be a strange document of life at the edge of civilisation from a different time” (Hofseth, 2011).
  • The ratings demonstrate that there is an enthusiastic audience for (at least occasional) Slow TV broadcasts. In the case of NRK every couple of years. It is notable that Samsung used a variation of the format to sell washing machines demonstrating this much shorter format has commercial value.
  • Hour for hour it’s likely to be very cheap to produce.

Against

  • Andy Warhol premiered his 5-hour film Sleep (1964) that featured poet John Giorno sleeping, in front of an audience of nine people. Two walked out. It’s not very entertaining.

References

BBC Four – All Aboard! The Canal Trip (s.d.) In: BBC At: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05t7kc1 (Accessed 02/07/2020).

Gwynn, S. (2017) Samsung to show unbroken three-minute shot of a washing machine cycle during Gogglebox. At: https://www.campaignlive.co.uk/article/samsung-show-unbroken-three-minute-shot-washing-machine-cycle-during-gogglebox/1450818 (Accessed 02/07/2020).

Heller, N. (2014) ‘Slow TV Is Here’ In: The New Yorker 30/09/2014 At: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/slow-tv (Accessed 02/07/2020).

Hofseth, A. (2011) Hurtigruten: 5 day TV marathon in the midnight sun. At: https://nrkbeta.no/2011/06/16/hurtigruten-eng/ (Accessed 02/07/2020).

List of illustrations

Figure 1 – A image from the front of a train (2009) [Slow TV] In: Bergensbanen: minutt for minutt. Norway: NRK

Figure 2 – still from the ad (2017) [TV advert] In: Samsung QuickDrive advert. London: Channel 4