Thursday, 13 November 2014

What is Slow TV?

What is Slow TV?

Slow TV can be understood in a number of ways. Trying to define it could be perceived as semantics, as playing with words, but it helps to give clarity as to why it is different to other forms of TV.

First and foremost it is a long recording or broadcast of a subject done in real time. No jump cuts, no editing out the bits that may be less interesting. Whatever happens, happens in the time it would take to happen – very literally real time. So that could be an animal, journey or event. This tends to make longer sequences and in turn a longer program. It could be ten minutes or five and half days.

That is not to say there is no selection of image for the viewer to watch or construing the parameters of the recording. Anything put on TV and any producer / editor will have criteria to filter a production accordingly. This will ensure that the viewer will have something which matches the goals, values and criteria of a Slow TV program.

The subject of a Slow TV program has got to be something which would not ordinarily be broadcast in real time. Cricket, football - many sports events would be Slow TV otherwise. While sports do hold that attribute of Slow TV, they are not.

Similarly, marathon broadcasts such as BBC Children in Need, State weddings, funerals, election coverage, waiting for vote counts and other national events could be Slow TV, but they are not. Slow TV can become a national event on occasion though.

Real time is it. The most basic, fundamental ingredient. Past this understanding Slow TV diversifies in its production values depending on broadcaster, on its medium, whether live or prerecorded, whether pre internet and social media if indeed Slow TV as we now have it existed before the internet became popularly accessible. Even the live events can be very different in their character.

The Slow TV which emerged from NRK (the Norwegian state broadcaster) since 2009 – is described as "Minutt for Minutt" - literally minute by minute. The time the recording or transmission takes is what the viewer sees. This is the undergirding principle of Slow TV, at least as far as the Norwegian incarnation of it is concerned - and Norway has been the only country to really plumb the depths and possibilities of Slow TV so far.

Being live gives an edge which prerecorded shows may lack (though any show can only be live just once). A broadcast on television so that people can watch it on their TV sets (not just laptops and handheld devices) during primetime sends the message that ‘this is important’ and invests a sense to the audience that the ordinary subject coming in to their television is being treated in an extra-ordinary way. Therein lies some important chemistry.

TV2, Norway’s main commercial channel produced a high quality web based Slow TV broadcast in May 2014. The continuous leg of a prerecorded journey was broadcast without commercial break via the broadcaster’s website with edited highlights of that leg being transmitted via the TV signal later that night. A blend of different media platform used to fit the mold of commercial TV. In contrast to TV2,  NRK do broadcast their Slow TV online, but it is live and a supplement to the TV signal; the internet broadcast is not the principal broadcast.

A better way of understanding Slow TV is to take a peep at the history of programs and projects which could be and have been described as Slow TV. See here for more.

Typically it is rich in visual aesthetics, often a relaxing scene, but not exclusively so. Subjects have included the beauty of the Norwegian landscape, but with lectures, knitting and singing making content, nature is not the only dynamic. Even in shows where nature is the centrepiece of the broadcast (such as the ferry trip, Hurtigruten), there may be a few hours of the cameras focussed on the dockside.

This camera ‘idle time’ introduced another dynamic during the ferry broadcast; it provided a platform for members of the public which was neither invited nor populated in content by the broadcaster but was the catalyst for spontaneous dockside events of music, dancing and plenty of hand and flag waving.

Viewers at home also interact via social media, online chat; and it seems that Slow TV may generate different ways of interaction in the viewer-medium relationship which other TV formats do not. That will be pondered and unpacked as this blog unfolds. "Slow TV reaches the parts other formats do not", one could say.

First published 7th October 2014, first revision published 13th November 2015.

Slow Television -The Slow TV Blog

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