Slow TV

My tutor suggested I might enjoy a BBC ‘slow TV’ programme of a journey along the Kennett & Avon Canal. Unfortunately, it is currently showing on iPlayer. But what is ‘slow TV’? I had no idea, so with a little research discovered a TED Talk by the Norwegian instigator of the genre. It’s linked below and well worth a watch.

Slow TV is real-time TV is real-time TV and Thomas Hellum explains his creative process and audience engagement with the programme in his entertaining TED talk. His initial film was a 7 hour train journey across Norway. Following its success, he made a 5 day live programme aboard a boat travelling around Norway’s coast line – and included footage of those following the journey from other boats and the shore. The showings attracted record numbers of viewers.

Hellum analyses the success:

  • Very little scheduling of what will happen during the programmes, with a readiness to accept things are they are found.
  • The use of uncomfortable long shots of each view – not the rapid cutting from shot to shot that is common in TV. By holding the shot for longer than normal, Hellum suggest that viewers begin to notice things on their screens and creative their own narratives for what is happening. As they might do if they were on actual journeys. He tells of one man, who having watched the train journey, rose to collect his bag from the overhead shelf in the carriage, only to realise that he was in his own living room!
  • It seems that this kind of viewing is a televisual phenomenon, through which the audience are held captive by their TVs in expectation of something interesting happening. I suspect this anticipation of something happening is crucial to the engagement.

I’m not sure that the concept of slow-TV could be adapted to the photographic medium with the same success, but there is encouragement that an audiences is prepared to engage with contemplative visuals (and sound) for an inordinate amount of time. In addition, there is a surprising willingness to engage with the banal when presented in an engaging format. Hellum stresses that he only makes one or two of these programmes per year so that a sense of ‘event’ is maintained.