Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Was the Drummond Puddle Watch a form of Slow TV?

The Drummond Puddle Watch
on Periscope - Drummond Central
A couple weeks ago a notable media phenomenon happened. Live footage of a puddle in an area of Newcastle Upon Tyne was broadcast by a marketing agency via internet streaming platform, Periscope. They just happened to have a window looking down onto the body of water obstructing a major pedestrian thoroughfare. What was notable about this was over half a million people tuned in to watch the continuous live feed streamed from a mobile phone app. It trended number one in the UK on twitter, number two worldwide. See Drummond Central's own write up for their story.

Comparisons with the TV format known as Slow TV, started in Norway by broadcaster NRK are obvious. Their recording of the train journey from Bergen to Oslo which was shown on the second state channel over seven hours fourteen minutes attracted the label ‘Slow TV’. (Some have said that Andy Warhol started Slow TV but just lightly critique that accepted ‘fact’ and you soon see it is not so. Another blog post sometime will deal with that!) .

On the success of this train transmission, the Norwegians did a number of other Slow TV projects, perhaps the most notable being the behemoth of the five and half day long live ‘Hurtigruten’ ferry journey. 11 cameras (some very pricey), serious technical challenges to overcome, an outside broadcast gallery worthy of olympic sports coverage. This was no static webcam but something which became a national TV event where people turned up to wave at the cameras, follow in their own boats, sit glued in front of their own screens as ports, fjords, mountains ambled by. People brought their own contributions to the broadcast with bands, dances, waterskiing in a gorilla suit and borat mankini. Even Queen Sonja of Norway participated uninvited with a regal wave from a fortuitous encounter with the Royal Yacht.

Six years after Norway brought us Slow TV, it is a format which has entered the minds of a lot of media consumers and one which other broadcasters are trying out, with mixed results. It could be suggested these mixed results could be down to insufficient understanding of the complexities of what can appear as a simple format. There are different types of Slow TV from basic pre-recorded through to internet only to multi camera TV broadcast. Russia and the UK have put Slow TV on their national channels. The USA is scheduled for a (postponed) Slow TV production. It’s not a format that is going away and needs much better conceptual framing if it is to be produced and enjoyed to its optimum.

Here are eight ways I think that the Drummond Puddle Watch offered us Slow TV. Each in itself does not make it Slow TV, but out of a combination of factors a type of Slow TV emerges.

It was live. In being live it becomes an event. It has a ‘nowness’ to it. Like watching a live sports event, you don’t want to leave it in case you miss something important for that broadcast.

The Drummond Puddle Watch on Periscope - Drummond Central
It was a microcosmic situation. There is something about it probably everyone can relate to at some time - like, we all have to get past puddles sometimes! Most of life isn’t about drama. It’s about the ordinary. Slow TV is powerfully ordinary, a celebration of the ordinary. An issue with usual TV is it usually presents contrived storylines and accelerated timelines as an antidote to the ordinariness of life. Slow TV - so called in comparison because it is real-time, gives the mundane an opportunity to be enjoyed. For most of us, daily life is the mundane and finding the meaning and fulfilment in that. Yes, this is where Slow TV can go off for an existential pondering.

In being live we wait to see how these small but important ordinary stories play out. The anticipation of what may or may not happen. When NRK communicates the essence of Slow TV for their marketing and conferences, a segment of a cow going for a ten minute walk on one of the broadcasts is shown. The mental and visual participation in the journey this ‘damned cow’ demonstrates the power of Slow TV to disrupt and confound usual broadcaster expectations and viewer habits. The behaviour of people navigating or circumnavigating a puddle is precisely this.

People begin populating the broadcast with their own uninvited content. Once people know there is a camera and therefore an audience, behaviour changes. Many of us feel the need to perform - as mentioned in the Norwegian example. In the case of The Puddle- bringing surfboards and lilos and eventually greater numbers as knowledge of the 'performance' platform spreads. 

The Puddle happened long enough to become an event. Long enough for word to spread, ideas to germinate. It was not forced into a small slot, not put on catch up or on demand. It had the sense of ‘extended now-ness’.

The Drummond Puddle Watch on Periscope - Drummond Central
There was a sense of participation. Watching the comments appear on the live feed, comments on facebook, tweet activity. A temporary transient community manifests online. Even if someone doesn’t add their thoughts, they enjoy sharing in comments about techniques and anticipations.

The Puddle was in real time. Real time gives an opportunity for nothing to happen. The times when nothing happens redefines the drama when something does happen. Real time doesn’t edit out the boring bits but validates something when it does happen, even if it is insignificant or boring. Of course being a well used path gave a sureness that the expected action will happen but it is the ‘uneditedness’ of Slow TV which gives definition to its eventfulness.

Slow TV is not mindfulness but will often facilitate it. Those moments when nothing else happens in your active mind but an awareness of what you’re doing - or in the case of this type of Slow TV - an awareness of what you're looking at, the seeking out of small details in case there is a change, even a tiny change in the story grabbing your attention. It’s a meaningful distraction from usually dominant mental preoccupations (family, career, health) and the repetition and mundane nature of being where you spend a lot of time, especially if that's indoors. Drummond Puddle Watch grabbed office workers' attention around the country. Mindfulness, entertainment and distraction in one. Now, that's good a Slow TV.

Slow TV plays out in different ways depending on its platform, its production level, its subject, the way media consumers watch it, the way people participate in front of the camera and in the transient fluidic online communities which nucleate around a given broadcast. The Drummond Puddle Watch most definitely caught and embodied some of the essential factors of Slow TV.

Some other different types of Slow TV:
Commercial pre-recorded non-linear Slow TV in Finland
State broadcast live interactive linear Slow TV in Russia
National public service broadcaster linear pre-recorded Slow TV in the UK
Single camera pre-recorded linear Slow TV in the UK for DVD

Slow Television - The Slow TV Blog

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