Scandinavians can't stop watching 'boring TV'

5:35 min

Slow reality TV is the baffling new trend that's got Norwegians glued to their television screens. And it's now come to Sweden, where the TV4 channel is broadcasting live from the M/S Diana for six days as the ship makes it way along Göta Canal, a 190-kilometre long waterway in southern Sweden.

The M/S Diana departed Stockholm Monday for what could be described as a maiden voyage. The liner ship is travelling down the Göta Canal this week fitted, for the first time, with three cameras. And as it makes its way from Stockholm to Gothenburg via 58 locks, it could potentially be watched by millions live on web TV.

The real-time online TV show TV4Båten, or the TV4 Boat, is the latest installment in the slow TV genre which started in Norway.

On a Friday night back in 2009, Norway's public broadcaster NRK aired a programme documenting a seven-hour train journey across the country from Oslo to Bergen.

Since then, NRK has broken audience rating records with a five-day programme following a cruise ship for 134 hours along Norway's west coast.

The station also aired a 12-hour primetime TV broadcast of a burning fireplace and an 18-hour live stream of salmon swimming up a river. NRK has got more slow shows in the pipeline, too, including an evening of minute-by-minute knitting.

Jonathan Nordin, a digital producer at Sweden's TV4, explains to Radio Sweden why the channel has caught on to this Scandinavian TV trend.

"It's pretty much the opposite of what we're used to when it comes to live broadcasting, which in most cases is about a high tempo and fast transitions. This is the opposite and we think people appreciate a slower pace when the rest of the flow around them is so fast."

Nordin says TV4 may put future slow shows on television and not just on its web channel. And in fact, one of the pioneers of the Slow TV movement, Rune Moklebust of NRK, feels that these kind of shows only really work on television.

"One of the most important success factors of our shows is that they are on TV... Watching TV is very different from watching web TV. On the web you have so many alternatives and on TV you have just a few," Moklebust tells Radio Sweden.

At a time when so many channels are competing for our attention and when we're getting used to an ever faster-moving media landscape, it seems odd that millions would be transfixed by a slow-moving ship or a crackling fireplace. But the key to these shows' success, says Jonathan Nordin, is precisely their lack of action.

"It's not about action, it's not about fast transitions. It's slow and calm and apparently people like it. Slow TV is a good way for people to be involved in the production."

It was not long ago that both Norwegians and Swedes had access to just a couple of TV stations, which meant everyone watched the same shows.

Rune Moklebust says that NRK's slow TV programmes have reminded Norwegians of that time and they have helped create a shared national experience, with viewers discussing the shows amongst themselves and on social media, and with locals coming out to greet the ship, for instance, as it docked in their home towns.

Both Nordin and Moklebust point out that a key to the success of slow TV is the interactive element as well as the feeling that you can access far-away places.

But while Slow TV apparently gets Scandinavians excited, could it work elsewhere? Rune Moklebust is convinced the format has universal appeal.

"I think it could work anywhere," he says. "It's just a way of telling a story and that could work in any country as long as you find something that the audience can relate to."