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Real Time TV Meets Mobile Viewers, Hysteria Breaks Out

Conventional wisdom holds that television, by and large, has reached a developmental pinnacle. The mass of TV output available worldwide would choke that supermassive black hole looming out there sucking up all light and energy. Viewers, however, mostly see what they’ve seen for the last three decades; series, films, sports and news framed the same. Gravity is irrefutable.

I Love RingoThose darned Norwegians; more format-bending TV shows. It hasn’t even been a decade since public broadcaster NRK offered 7 hours of a train passing from Bergen to Oslo beginning the slow TV movement. Then there was that 134 hour boat journey followed by 24 hours of the first day of fishing season, National Firewood Day and National Knitting Day. NRK’s new slow TV offering is a week of watching the reindeer migrate from Lapland at the end of April. When the sun isn’t shining there will be the northern lights.

Scandinavian broadcasters seized slow TV as a cultural concept. Last mid-summer Iceland’s public broadcaster RUV took viewers on a 24 hour drive through the country. Others felt the creative energy; French public TV showed 9 hours of a guy walking backwards in Tokyo. ITV Studios produced a 2-hour sleigh ride, shot in Norway, for the BBC Christmas 2015. Netflix has a slow TV channel. Binge-watching isn’t necessarily scripted.

Moving right along: NRK has another hit show defying the old linear logic. Beginning its 4th and final season this week Skam - Shame in English - is a teen drama. OK, teen TV shows have been around since, like, forever. Anybody remember Beverly Hills 90210? Of course, not.

Skam is a a scripted series with an ensemble cast depicting the life and times of high school students. It’s rough. Earlier seasons have dealt with mental illness, bullying, date rape and homosexuality amidst other teenage angst. The characters are complex, delivered in the impatient voices of youth. The new season features Muslim immigrant Sana, played by Iman Meskini.

Producer Marianne Furevold designed Skam for two merged realities: TV online and youth audiences. During the show’s seasons individual scenes pop-up through the week on Instagram and Tumblr, largely without benefit of schedule or advance notice. The effect, for the viewer, is a certain fitting-in with developing storyline. Be there or be square; it’s real-time. Each character maintains a social media account. At the end of the week the full episode appears, 15 to 35 minutes in length, on the website of youth channel NRK P3.

Audience estimates for the first week of the first season showed a minuscule 24 thousand viewers, reported NRK (April 7). Season three averaged 900,000 viewers per week. That’s just in Norway. The worldwide headcount has been estimated at 3 million, much of that from Scandinavia but also as far off as Australia and South Korea. Fans are self-producing sub-titled versions, not to forget fan pages on social media.

In January NRK sadly announced that a dispute with music rights collections society IFPI required geo-blocking viewer traffic outside Norway. NRK’s IFPI agreement allows distribution of programs to Norwegians living abroad but, without surprise, not a vast international audience. The immediate result was a teenaged melt down in Denmark, home to roughly 40% of the non-Norwegian audience.

A partial reprieve was negotiated at the last minute, said NRK lawyer Kari Anne Lang-Ree, quoted by Soundvenue (April 7). “This means that Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish youth can follow together the clips posted on P3's Skam page on Monday (April 10) and comment on the clips.” The weekly episodes, however, remain geo-blocked.

While Skam has but this one last season as an NRK production, it may live on elsewhere. American Idol producer Simon Fuller optioned the show concept last December for a North American version true to the “essence” of the original, reported Variety (December 9, 2016).

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