Monday, 11 April 2016

Full interview about Slow TV, the blog and me...

I was recently interviewed (via email) for Strategies, a French media magazine - you can read the edited version, in English in the blog piece here. I found writing the responses a helpful exercise, so here is the full transcript of my interview:

When did you start your blog, and how did you become interested in Slow TV?

I started the Slow TV blog early autumn 2014 in response to the lack of a centralised resource about the format. I was working on my final film for a Masters Degree in TV Documentary Production at Salford University; obviously, the final project was to make a documentary. I'd begun ruminating over Slow TV as my major film in January that year. The news had been picking up the seemingly bizarre success of the format in Norway and I was looking for another way of doing a documentary, as opposed to a typical 'facts and figures' documentary. The more I scratched the surface, the more interested I became. When I started the blog, I'd already had one production trip to Oslo and Bergen to interview key NRK staff involved in the development, broadcast and distribution of the shows and was surprised there was no bringing together on the web for something which has rapidly become 'a thing' of note. With a second production trip to Norway on the cards to film behind the scenes at 60 hour Slow TV event I also wanted to have somewhere I could point people to when producing.

2. What’s the interest of Slow TV for the audience?

The reason I became interested is that Slow TV can be many things to different people at the time. Bearing in mind the format has emerged into different types. There are journey types (Bergensbanen and Hurtigruten from Norway), there are the participatory types (singing through the entire 899 hymns of the Norwegian hymnbook and the reading of the whole of War and Peace in Russia), there are the 'ambient' type such as a DVD of ploughing, or the webcam type such as available in Czech Republic. The interest of the audience includes relaxation, wallpaper TV (treating it like ambient music - background or immersive media trip), to aspects of national heritage, pride and identity. When it's done very well, Slow TV can become a monster of a national event such as several times in Norway or in Russia with War and Peace. At the same time it can be a warm and cosy affair which you may lose yourself in more than you'd planned. Over all, Slow TV at its best is a real time documentary experience.

3. What demographic does Slow TV appeal to?

In Norway, it's principally broadcast on NRK2 which is an older age group. In the UK so far it's been on BBC4, which is for specialist audience of all ages, but I'd suspect it would fall under the same larger demographic as Norway. It tends to be more contemplative in nature and its editing pace (real time in length, cuts not happening so often) better fits older viewers. My children can't stand the idea of Slow TV! Looking at audience motivations is a very interesting thing; older folk (in which I, in my 40s, would include myself)  are more mindful of life and the need to savour moments have 'eudaimonic' motivations as opposed to 'hedonic'. Of course, this is broadly speaking. Different Slow TV subjects will draw slightly different audiences. Train journeys, knitting, singing hymns are very diverse topics. There is a live 1km sheer rock-climbing Slow TV on the cards, which instead of the expected relaxing form of Slow TV, will bring an element of risk and peril. I expect this might pull in younger 'stimulation seeking' viewers. Another angle to take is the participatory Slow TV - when 3,000 people are reading War and Peace over several days or a couple hundred choirs taking it in turn to sing 899 hymns over 60 continuous broadcast hours, friends, family and connections will want to see them. I also got to interview a project manager from TV2, Norway's principal commercial channel, who cited their mainly web-based, pre-recorded Slow TV of helicopter flights brought in a different demographic than NRK2. As for social media, indeed, that brings in a whole new layer of participation and interaction.

4. How do you think brands and advertisers might be able to use Slow TV? Have shows ever been sponsored?

Yes, absolutely. A local station in the US broadcast a steak being grilled over 13 hours with embedded competitions to keep people hooked. There was a spoof real-time advert of a 'flight from hell' filmed over several hours by an airline, put together as means of juxtaposing its own superior service and experience. As for 'linear TV' on a major broadcaster, it's yet to happen as far as I know. I have approached a commercial broadcaster in the UK with ideas and they feel there is nothing in Slow TV for them; I have gone to an independent production company with several ideas and they feel the UK TV landscape will not accommodate anything like the Norwegian format as it's too much of a risk. Even though NRK has created several national events with Slow TV and has become world famous for it. An obvious inspiration for commercial Slow TV could be drawn from the film which foresaw reality TV. "The Truman Show" is the 'Slow TV' of a man's entire life, broadcast continuous in real time. Much in Truman's world - from appliances to clothes - are available to buy in catalogues, not to mention the obtrusive product-placement pieces-to-camera. Slow TV in a commercial context is something waiting to happen and could work well if the broadcaster concerned gives it their all and not a half hearted truncated accommodation of Slow TV late at night. 

5. Where do you see this trend going - what hasn’t been achieved yet that you’d like to see?

I see this trend continuing and spreading, though really only Russia has pulled off a Slow TV project worthy of that of NRK's consistent track record. I am delighted other countries and broadcasters are having a go but haven't yet understood its full potential. It's an amazing format, give it the time, broadcast slot and production value it deserves.  
Norway has a couple Slow TV projects to come this year; we're overdue a Norwegian-guided USA based Slow TV production (meant to have been November last year). The BBC I expect will further dabble in Slow TV and I hope will better frame its conceptualisation of the subjects it's been showing. I'd like to see a British broadcaster have a full-on go at Slow TV before online platforms catch on (shhhh!); the TV we watch at home on the big screen is still what makes for more 'important' TV, although younger viewing habits and nascent technologies. Indeed, as viewing technology evolves, there could be applications for immersive Slow TV experiences via 360 degree headsets. One of the Norwegians' driving factors in producing Slow TV has been to push the technological challenges in delivering their projects and as broadcasters look to the future, adapting that production to viewing possibilities will no doubt be something which will be explored.
Slow TV should be around for a long time. New subjects, new countries and broadcasters. If it's done well and correctly it will be something audiences will love and ask for more of - as Norway has been showing the rest of the world for nearly seven years now. My working in producing Slow TV is also something I'd like to happen, to - and another reason for my blog!

My documentary is available to view entirely here, or as a playlist here.

Slow Television - The Slow TV Blog

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