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Modern train steams ahead: train rides on slow TV

With US Audiences, Slow TV Steams Ahead

April 13th, 2017   ||    by Susan Kuchinskas   ||    No Comments

Remember that broadcast of a burning log your local TV station would run on Christmas Eve? Your dad might have put it on with a sense of irony, or perhaps for the lovely light the flickering screen cast into the darkened room. Even today, Netflix can stream a fireplace right into your home. But who knew just how popular such programs could become? Case in point: “slow TV,” a programming trend from Norway that has become a broadcast phenomenon, with millions tuning in.

One Train, Seven Hours, One Million Viewers

It started in 2009 when Norwegian producer Thomas Hellum filmed a seven-hour train ride across Norway. More than one million people watched at least part of the journey, according to The Washington Post, (for some perspective, Norway’s total population is around 5 million). Later programs that enthralled viewers featured a barge ride, knitting, and the chopping, stacking, and burning of firewood.

BBC Four hopped on this trend in 2015, producing several such programs, including a canal boat journey and live, unnarrated footage of craftsmen making things. For Christmas 2016, it broadcast an hour-long trip on the Flying Scotsman steam engine, complete with a driver’s seat view, reports Digital Spy. Now American audiences, according to Quartz, will get to experience this oddly intriguing programming: Netflix acquired 11 of these programs in August 2016, including Knitting Morning, Knitting Evening, and Knitting Night.

It’s not as crazy as it seems: Watching slow programming might cause you to zone out or nod off, but it can also draw you into an attentive state. You don’t have to figure things out or keep up with plot points. You simply observe. Javid Sadr, a psychology professor at M.I.T., says that watching slow TV can put you into a flow state, where the thinking brain takes a back seat to the perceptions, according to Inverse.

Snapshots of Slow TV

What about ads, you might be asking—ad breaks might seem at odds with the whole slow TV concept. After all, who wants their programming flow interrupted by the jarring sound of a perky voice pushing a nearby supermarket sale? And yet, the world has already seen the first slow commercial—and its content might surprise you.

The company Ronseal created a three-minute, 10-second ad that showed a guy painting a fence—that’s it, just painting a fence—to showcase one of their products, according to the San Francisco Egoist. It ran on television in the U.K. last May and fascinated Twitter. Waitrose, the British supermarket chain, followed suit by livestreaming footage from its farm in the English countryside to YouTube and screens in train terminals.

Viewership for slow programming on over-the-top services has been strong. Audiences seem to love live television, even if there’s not that much going on. Such programming is both inexpensive and appreciated by audiences, the San Francisco Egoist points out. The genre offers strong potential for station groups to partner with businesses, creating a local tie-in, as well as additional opportunities for revenue. The Cupcake Cam, a promotion for the TLC show DC Cupcakes, is a wonderful example of this. Station groups could similarly broadcast live from a bakery, factory, or other local business—while local advertisers could hop on board with relevant slow ads of their own.

So, what does this all mean for traditional TV advertising? What this ultimately tells us is that viewers are open to programming that breaks the mold of action-packed 30-minute or one-hour shows. So, TV stations and advertisers: It’s time to slow down.

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