Last year, slow TV was a divisive but runaway hit. This year, the unlikely global sensation is back to break all the televisual rules in an even bigger dose.
And it’s still not for everyone.
In a bold experiment, SBS is railroading audiences with four new marathon slow-TV events every Sunday in January.
The springboard? Last year’s risky The Ghan, which tracked the iconic train from Adelaide to Darwin. Despite some critics shunting it as the “most boring thing on television” and “a train to nowhere”, it mesmerised around 750,000 viewers.
Barrelling well past expectations, it became the highest rating SBS show for 12 months.
“It had its haters, but the Australian public asked for more. Four times more slow,” said an SBS spokesperson.
This time around, viewers can get lost in an Indian Pacific train journey, a Kimberley cruise, a British canal trip and a New Zealand overland route from north to south.
As with The Ghan, the new slow TV experiences have no narration and no music. The footage is punctuated just by brief historical asides and graphics.
For audiences, it’s a semi-hypnotising opportunity to sit and do nothing while being taken on a trip, says Adam Kay, general manager of the series’ multi-award winning production company Mint.
“It’s an experience,” Mr Kay told The New Daily.
“There is no voiceover or that high-pitched music, so there is no one telling you what to look at or feel. The picture is telling you everything.”
On most TV shows, shots last three or four seconds. With slow TV, 30 seconds is the minimum, and some single shots last for up to two and a half minutes.
“That’s immersive,” said Mr Kay, 47, who as a boy growing up in Scotland’s Glasgow was fascinated by the outdoors and landscapes.
“You can look down and have a sip of your wine and when you look back up you haven’t missed that much.”
Starting January 6, the four shows will be shown for up to three hours, each in primetime on SBS and will stream live on SBS on Demand.
For true slow TV suckers, the full journeys of up to 18 hours will be shown on SBS VICELAND the following week.
So is slow TV a perfect antidote for the clicky, fast ways we get our entertainment now, in this era of the short attention span?
“A lot of people said to me, ‘It’s three hours long but it didn’t really matter. I was putting the kids to bed, I dipped in and out of it, I didn’t feel I’d missed anything crucial’,” Mr Kay said.
“It’s got old-school principles – it’s the TV equivalent of reading a book – but it’s also contemporary and creative with the modern feel and techniques.
“It makes you feel we’re going back to the 1900s but in a fresh way.”
Dr Nicholas Van Dam, a psychology research fellow at the University of Melbourne, told The New Daily after The Ghan premiered that “it’s not totally outside the realm of possibilities” that there might be benefits to watching slow TV.
“Some may have found the program to be relaxing, similar to a walk in the forest or a long hike,” he said.
“Ultimately, I suspect the popularity reflects a desire for something that is more authentic and provides more of an in-the-moment experience.”
Netflix has a smorgasbord of slow TV titles from fishing to knitting, with many reflecting the Scandinavian origins of the movement.
One of the originators was 2013’s Bergensbanen: Minutt for Minutt, from Norwegian national broadcaster NRK. It’s been viewed over 1.3 million times on YouTube.
One thing that has piqued the curiosity of Mr Kay is whether boats have as much appeal as trains in the slow TV lexicon.
“I don’t know many things like trains which appeal to people from the age of four to 80. The cruise ship will be slightly different and I don’t think there’s that much of a nailed-on audience,” Mr Kay said.
“We shall see.”
Given the international interest in slow TV, Mr Kay is wary of revealing what’s still on his slow-filming wish list.
“There’s competitors out there,” he said. “I should be respectful of myself and of the broadcaster.”
HOW TO WATCH THE NEW SLOW TV EVENTS
The Indian Pacific: Australia’s Longest Train Journey screens January 6 (7.30pm, three hours, SBS) and January 12 (all day, SBS VICELAND.)
The Kimberley Cruise: Australia’s Last Great Wilderness screens January 13 (7.30pm, three hours, SBS) and January 19 (all day, SBS VICELAND.)
All Aboard! The Canal Trip screens January 20 (7.30pm, two hours, SBS.)
North to South screens January 27 (7.30pm, three hours, SBS) and February 2 (all day, SBS VICELAND.)