Sometimes, you need to chill out and take it slow. Whether you want some ambient background video for a party, are desperately searching for sleep at 2 a.m., or just need a few moments of peace in a hectic week, slow TV may be exactly what you’re looking for. But are you asking yourself, what is slow TV? You’re not alone. This remarkably peaceful genre of largely DIY material is waiting for you to discover.
What Is Slow TV Anyway?
Depending on who you ask, you’ll get different answers to the question of what is slow TV, exactly. But like certain other things, you know it when you see it. Some say that slow TV is designed to showcase an event of extended time in its entirety. Think of the classic train journeys, hiking or urban walking videos, sunsets, or even crafting or construction. Others argue the mood and style are more important than any completeness or event. These Slow TVers would point to extended stationary videos like flowing rivers, crashing waves, and animals in nature to bolster their case.
At the end of the day, slow TV is in the eye of the beholder, and viewers can find creators producing pretty much whatever they can imagine.
A Slow Start: The History Of Slow TV
The most ancient answer to what is slow TV may lie in an American holiday classic – the Yule Log. Way back on Christmas Eve 1966, the New York TV station PIX-11 aired a 17-second loop of a pile of burning logs in a fireplace, set to Christmas music, for about three hours. As precisely no one expected, it was a massive hit. The yule log program allowed viewers without fireplaces to participate in a more traditional Christmas experience and provided an ultra-low key visual for families and friends spending time together for the holidays. That short video was soon replaced by a longer seven-minute version that’s run every Christmas since, except for an 11-year gap between 1990 and 2001.
Another stop on the journey to “modern” slow TV came from the darkened streets of 1980s Canada. Night Walk is a gliding, dream-like journey through Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood, weaving through subway stations, record stores, and malls. It was aired between 2 and 5 a.m., at a time when many other TV stations simply went off air or showed a test pattern.
But the enterprising folks at GlobalTV had a better idea. They filmed just three episodes, including one from a partially-deconstructed car driving through the streets of Toronto. Still, those three episodes manned the graveyard shift on the network for seven years. While it turns out it may have been a music publishing scam to net royalties for Global, the impact was made nonetheless. Scan the YouTube comments, and you’ll find dozens of insomniacs, new parents, and kids staying up too late reminiscing about this mysterious program.
Norway’s NRK and Slow TV
But it was another country that provided an answer to what is slow TV that defined the current boom. Norway’s public broadcaster has produced prolific amounts of slow TV since 2009. That’s when it created worldwide attention with its now-iconic video of a train ride across southern Norway. The seven-hour journey became a worldwide phenomenon, leading to more train trips, boat trips, animal migrations, and other oddities like 2013’s National Knitting Night and 60 consecutive hours of hymns (broadcast live, of course) a year later.
How To Create Slow TV
Slow TV isn’t complicated to create. Almost by definition, there’s no fancy camera work or editing required. But you do need a few pieces of equipment and a few simple concepts.
Picking Your Subject
When considering what is slow TV or not, the most important part is just being there. Capture moments that are not only meaningful to you but ones that others would enjoy and relate to as well. Walks in nature, on beaches, or through cities or towns are always popular. Stationary nature scenes are also common choices. Keep the logistical elements in mind as well. You may want to dash-mount your camera for your entire drive across west Texas, but do you have enough memory cards to capture it all? Enough batteries? Are you willing to relax and enjoy the scenery for an hour or two (or more) while your camera does its thing?
You will need a decent camera, ideally one that can film in 4K if possible. High resolutions are prized in the slow TV world, as they allow viewers to enjoy your videos on TVs or larger screens and provide a more fully immersive experience.
Extensive camera discussion and advice is beyond the scope of this article. However, if the idea of learning about it makes your head spin, just know you can most likely produce some pretty nice looking videos using your cell phone’s camera if it’s a relatively recent model. For those looking for a modest investment that comes with significant benefits, recent GoPro models are an excellent combination of video quality, durability, and affordability. Think about all the possibilities with a waterproof, palm-sized camera that can take 4K video and be mounted in any number of ways!
Sound is also a crucial part of a satisfying slow TV experience. The easiest solution is to purchase a camera with a suitable microphone. Most that have appropriate video quality also have tolerable audio. But as the popularity of ASMR shows, people LOVE top-quality sound. If your camera can connect and the circumstances of your video allow it, an additional external microphone can go a long way towards improving the quality of your videos.
One of the few requirements of slow TV is its length, meaning you’ll need some way to keep your camera where it needs to be throughout the process. For stationary videos, a tripod is your best bet. You may be able to simply rest your camera on the ground or another surface. But this can result in worse camera angles or other problems. For walking or other motion-based videos, you’ll need a body mount of some kind.
The most popular solutions are chest or head mounts, each of which has its own advantages and disadvantages. Chest mounts provide a stable, medium-height location for your camera and reduce the likelihood of a too-quick nausea-inducing pan or turn on your video. However, you’ll need to be careful not to get your arms or other body parts in the shot. On the other hand, head mounts allow you to easily zero in on a certain object or viewpoint but can be jerky or uneven based on how often you move your head. Head mounts also serve as a great way to avoid any chance your body will accidentally make it into your shot. You can see the difference in perspective here demonstrated with a GoPro, along with other, less common mounts:
Video Editing Software
In almost all cases, you’re going to need some software to put together your final video and prepare it for sharing. You may want to add titles, watermarks or make other small edits as well. You may be able to accomplish what you need with the built-in editors on your computers, like iMovie or Windows Video Editor.
But if you’re serious about video editing and production, it makes sense to spring for a paid program. Adobe Premiere Pro for Windows and Apple Final Cut Pro for Mac remain the standards for full-featured, powerful video editing. Final Cut Pro isn’t cheap, at $299. However, Premiere Pro is only available on a subscription basis, and paying $20.99 a month means at least $250 per year indefinitely just to keep your program functional. There are also plenty of cheaper or free options that provide additional features beyond your computer’s built-in editor.
Other Examples Of The Best Slow TV Videos
One of the easiest ways to answer what is slow TV is to simply watch some of it! So here are some of the most popular and best-known slow TV videos that we haven’t already mentioned.
Relaxing 3 Hour Video of Tropical Beach with Blue Sky White Sand and Palm Tree
One of YouTube’s top slow TV videos with more than 3.6 million views, this is a great example of looped slow TV. It may be hard to tell, but the video much shorter piece of stock footage is stitched together over and over. Thanks to the relative lack of movement and repetitive nature of the shot, most people perceive it as one three-hour-long clip instead. Wouldn’t we all like to be on a beach at this perfect hour of the afternoon for that long?
Mexico City Virtual Walk
Slow TV walking videos can be a chance to travel anywhere in the world that a camera has been. Exotic destinations like Mexico City, Paris, and Tokyo are common because of the distinctive street experiences that viewers can immerse themselves in. Nearly 1.3 million people have taken this 4K walk down a crowded Mexico City boulevard. It’s also a great example of how much a physical video stabilizer can improve the quality of walking videos beyond any in-camera adjustments.
Flying over Switzerland #1
Here’s a unique one that’s great for everyone to enjoy but a little outside the level of expertise for most would-be slow TVers. These sweeping aerial shots provide a birds-eye view of Switzerland’s quaint villages, sweeping lakes, and towering mountains at an almost hypnotically constant speed. While many slow TV videos choose to use only natural sound, the videomakers here have instead added soothing ambient music. That’s an understandable choice, considering how little you’d likely be able to hear over the sound of the aircraft. While it’s filmed in only 1080p, the incredible scenery proves that content is king, and video quality can take a back seat when the visuals are so good.
50 Minutes Of Axe Carving
Here’s something very different from what we’ve seen before, but can certainly be considered slow TV. Take a short walk out into the woods with your protagonist, who’ll spend the remaining three-quarters of an hour or so using an ax to carve a log into a handmade grain scoop. There’s nothing revolutionary here, either in terms of crafting technique or camerawork. Still, it’s oddly satisfying to watch the wood chips fly and see the scoop slowly emerge from an ordinary log. These sorts of “start to finish” videos are a popular subgenre of slow TV. What is slow TV? Sometimes it’s just a guy, his ax, and a log in the woods.
Beach Walk Vol. 1 – Sanibel, FL
We’ll end back at the beach, with a peaceful walk down the beach of Sanibel, FL. This is a highly-searched destination on YouTube, and therefore would be a great choice for a video if you are trying to grow your audience via YouTube’s search and community. Here, the natural sound has been replaced by relaxing jazz, similar to the original “Night Walk” broadcasts.
What Is Slow TV? Here’s Your Answer
What is slow TV? As you’ve seen, it’s more of a mood and a style than any concrete set of rules or guidelines. It’s about providing an immersive, relaxing experience that transports viewers to your location. The best way to learn more is to watch! Explore YouTube and find what you enjoy, and if inspiration and opportunity strike, maybe even make your own.