Slow TV puts Svalbard in the spotlight

Slow TV

Photo: NTB Scanpix
Svalbard’s retreating glaciers were in focus during the nine-day long slow TV broadcast from NRK.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

Already known for broadcasting some of the longest uninterrupted TV programs, Norway’s state-owned NRK aired its longest and most ambitious show yet this winter.

Svalbard: minute by minute followed the nine-day, five-hour journey of the Hurtigruten expedition vessel MS Spitsbergen, as it sailed around its namesake Spitsbergen, the largest island of Svalbard, home to the world’s northernmost permanently inhabited communities.

Built in 2009 and fully refurbished in 2016, the MS Spitsbergen has a maximum capacity of 335 passengers. Its small size and good maneuverability is well-suited for polar voyages. Multiple external cameras and drones were used to capture the journey in the 24-hour daylight of last summer.

The 13,319-minute broadcast was aired on NRK2 from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. Alternatively, viewers could tune in to a one-hour highlights package each evening on NRK1 starting on Feb. 1.


Svalbard in focus

The Arctic archipelago was chosen for the broadcast to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Svalbard Treaty.

Signed in Paris in February 1920, the unique treaty gave Norway sovereignty over Svalbard but granted access rights to the other signatories. Today, only Russia makes substantial use of those rights with their settlements Barentsberg and Pyramiden.

NRK project manager Thomas Hellum said the Svalbard series is the “ultimate slow-TV project” allowing viewers to join a tour, learn, and experience without needing to travel. The islands have been hit hard by the effects of climate change and the 24-hour daylight experienced during August gives viewers the chance to see the changes for themselves.

“For many, such a round-trip is unattainable, but everyone can join in this experience from their couch. We have shown the experiences of nature, landscape, and wildlife. We also go ashore to see historic remains,” said Hellum in an interview prior to the broadcast.

The Norwegian government has recently announced a series of environmental regulations to curb the increasing numbers of tourists. They include a ban on large cruise ships and vessels using heavy fuel oil (HFO). A new certification for tour guides is also under consideration.


The pioneers of slow TV

The Norwegian phenomenon of slow TV began with NRK’s seven-hour broadcast from the world-famous Oslo to Bergen railway. The uninterrupted broadcast that combined footage from exterior cameras with on-board interviews was a huge hit. More than 1 million Norwegians tuned in to watch the original broadcast, and the program went on to become a viral hit around the world.

NRK has since produced shows from the Nordland Railway between Trondheim and Bodø, and the Flåm Railway. But the biggest hit to date was the Hurtigruten: minute by minute, which followed the seven-day ocean journey from Bergen to Kirkenes. Norwegians turned out in great numbers at each port to greet the arriving vessel.

This article originally appeared in the March 6, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

Avatar photo

David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.