Friday, 11 August 2017

Elisabeth Urdal on The Audience's Experience of watching Slow TV

Looking to Hjørundfjord from Slogen in Sunnmørsalpene
The Slow TV Blog is very pleased to welcome a guest author, Elisabeth Urdal from Bergen who has just this summer completed a Masters Degree in Media Science, with qualitative research contributing to Reception Studies on Slow TV. This also forms a unique club of two people who have studied Slow TV at Masters Degree level!

The Audience’s Experience of watching Slow TV

The Norwegian broadcaster NRK's ​​Slow TV programs have had a big audience both in their home country and abroad. But what experiences do the audience get by watching boat - and train journeys, hymn singing and knitting minute by minute?

A recently delivered Masters thesis in Media Science addresses this question. Elisabeth Urdal from the University of Bergen interviewed twelve viewers in two different age groups – between 18-29 years and 49 years and older. Her research showed that it was particularly five experiences Slow TV gave the Norwegian viewers:

  1. Travel experience

One experience the viewers expressed was that Slow TV gave them a travel experience. Several of the programs have been boat and train journeys, such as this summer's “Sommertoget minutt for minutt”. These TV programs showed the entire journey from A to B, allowing the audience to see the view along the way. In this way, the audience got the feeling of being a free passenger who joined the journey from start to finish, over as long time as the journey took.

“They bring us to fjords and mountains that we may not have seen”

  1. Relaxing and hypnotic

Another experience is perhaps the most obvious one – it's relaxing to watch Slow TV. It is a predictable TV genre with a lack of highlights, and most of the time nothing happens. Some of the viewers claimed that Slow TV could be so relaxing that it almost seemed hypnotic.

When they watched the waves or train rails go by, they got into a rhythm where they were "taken into the picture". Several people first discovered this "hypnosis" when they were interrupted by someone who spoke to them or by a ringing phone.

“It's good to relax with Slow TV and disconnect everything and everyone”

  1. Thought- and imagination provoking

A third experience was that Slow TV can evoke thoughts and imagination. No producer has cut out the boring parts, so the viewer himself must find out what's worth watching and what's not. The slow format also makes it possible to notice details that the viewers otherwise may not have seen in a traditional format. Some of the audience compared it to "people watching". In this "activity” you usually sit in a café and study people passing by and maybe fantasize about their lives.

"When you look at things slowly, you have more time to stimulate and find up stories yourself"

  1. “Live feeling”

A fourth experience was the live feeling – a feeling that what's happening, happens now.

Except for some of the broadcasts, the Slow TV productions have all been broadcasted live. The audience not only get to see a small excerpt of the journey or activity, but get to see the whole part, and in real time as it unfolds.

The viewers could probably guess what would happen in the next minutes, but they never knew for sure. This gave an extra thrill to a somewhat unexciting format. Several of the informants therefore sat longer than they indented to in the first place, in case something exciting could happen.

“It was hardly possible to believe, I could not take the time to eat or go to the toilet”

  1. National feeling and community

The experience most of the audience mentioned were the strong national feeling Slow TV provided.

Elisabeth in her Bunad on Norway Day, 17th May
Firstly, Slow TV was sent by the Norwegian public broadcaster, NRK.

Secondly the programs contained typically Norwegian topics, like high mountains and deep fjords, and traditional activities such as knitting, hymn singing and salmon fishing.

Thirdly, and not least, all the Norwegian flags were a symbol of Norway. Several of the viewers said this evoked patriotic feelings in them. In addition, the viewers described a form of national community with the whole population of Norway. The nation either watched the programs at home, or participate with flags and homemade posters in front of the camera.

“We were together on a common project, and you got the strong feeling of being one nation. You felt very Norwegian”

Elisabeth's whole master thesis “Suddenly it happened…nothing - a study of the audience's experience with Slow TV” can be read and downloaded here.

Copyright Elisabeth Urdal, 2017.

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