x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Slow TV: British Airways turns to rail journeys, knitting and bird feeding for entertainment

Footage of a Norwegian rail trip has proved a hit, with similar appeal to that of the moving plane map leaving passengers 'mesmerised'.

Screen grab from a video of the Bergensbanen train route in Norway. NRK via Youtube
Screen grab from a video of the Bergensbanen train route in Norway. NRK via Youtube

British Airways planes will screen a seven-hour film showing a rail journey through Norway in real time as its first foray into so-called Slow TV, a genre it says should appeal to long-haul passengers seeking relaxing viewing.

Other offerings that could be available alongside the latest computer games, Hollywood blockbusters and television cop shows include knitting, a walk in the park and bird feeding, London-based British Airways said last week.

Footage of a rail trip from Bergen to Oslo was a breakout hit in Norway, where about 1 million people or one in five of the population have viewed it, according to British Airways, which will screen the journey on hundreds of flights from next month. The marathon film has a similar appeal to that of moving plane maps watched by passengers for “endless hours”, it said.

Norway’s NRK first screened its 7 hour 16 minute film of the Bergensbanen train route from the North Sea coast through the country’s central mountain chain to Oslo in 2009.

“It fits perfectly with the wallpaper-style footage people find mesmerising,” BA on-board entertainment manager Richard D’Cruze said after securing the first airline rights to the rail film. “There’s a hypnotic, calming and entertaining quality to Slow TV that is perfect for in-flight entertainment.”

Slow TV will be available in British Airways jets equipped with Thales electronics, including its new Boeing 787 Dreamliners serving Toronto and Newark and Airbus Group NV A380 superjumbos to cities including Los Angeles and Hong Kong.

For passengers in the mood for less soporific viewing, British Airways is also screening next-day highlights from the Brazil World Cup and Wimbledon tennis championships.

Meanwhile, to keep football fans on long-haul flights happy, Etihad Airways is showing every World Cup match live through the airline’s in-flight entertainment system.

Q&A

Was Norway’s seven-hour rail journey film a hit when it was first released in 2009?

Viewing figures averaged 176,000 – versus the usual 33,000 – and 1.25 million people tuned in at some point in the programme. Four cameras were used to shoot the documentary, two of them external and the others used for interviews, with archive footage inserted when the train entered one of 182 tunnels on the 100-year-old route, according to the website of NRK, the government-owned broadcaster.

Was this a one-off film project?

The programme’s success led the state broadcaster to follow up in 2011 with a live and non-stop screening of the Hurtigruten “coastal express” ship journey from Bergen to Kirkenes on Norway’s polar border with Russia, 2,000 kilometres to the north. Half the Norwegian population watched the film at some point. The broadcaster’s National Firewood Night coverage last year featured a four-hour documentary on firewood, followed by eight hours’ live footage of a burning fireplace. Recent programmes showed 18 hours of salmon swimming upstream and the knitting of a sweater.

What can we expect from the in-flight entertainment (IFE) of the future?

Thales, a key developer of on-board entertainment solutions, is creating a system that would embed gesture control and eye tracking technology into IFE systems. With the gesture control technology, passengers would no longer need remote controls to activate their screen. And eye-tracking technology will stop passengers having to press pause when an air hostess offers a drink or meal.

* with Bloomberg News

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