Stingray Digital Group Inc., the Quebec company that took over CBC's Galaxie music streaming service, plans to double its catalogue of landscape video over the next year as viewer appetite grows for slow-paced programming such as log fires and sunsets.
At a time when attention spans are measured in 3-second gifs and multimedia snaps, the Montreal-based media firm says there's been a growth in consumer interest in so-called "slow TV." The term refers to a broadcast of a mundane scene which usually lasts far longer than typical TV broadcasts and was popularized in the 2000s by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), whose first slow TV effort depicted a 7-hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo.
Stingray sells a slow-RV-inspired television channel and on-demand service called Ambiance that features lengthy loops of real-life waterfalls, flower-filled valleys and other soothing scenes to broadcasters including Rogers Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., DirecTV Group Inc., and Swisscom. The channel is a small but growing part of its overall media streaming business, representing about 2 per cent of total revenue of $89.9-million for fiscal 2016.
"It's really about setting the mood," Stingray vice-president Mathieu Péloquin said in explaining the channel's appeal. "You're watching a beautiful view of a marina off Vancouver Island or Santorini. You'll maybe see a boat go by once but that's about the [extent of the action]. It's really about leaning back and watching beautiful colours, beautiful lighting, beautiful images, and hearing great sound. That's the whole purpose."
The company says it intends to double its current offering of 250 hours of content by the end of 2017, filming new footage in various areas of the world as it expands its customer base internationally. It commissions footage and buys rights to existing stock, doing post-production in-house in Montreal.
Demand for such programming is being driven in part by the increased adoption by consumers of 4K ultra-high-definition resolution television sets and the related push by telecommunications companies to deliver more 4K content. Ambiance was among the first North American ultra-high-definition channels. Its low production cost made it an easy choice for cable TV and satellite operators, Mr. Péloquin said.
U.S.-based streaming service Netflix Inc. currently carries several NRK-produced slow-TV segments. They include a ship's 11-hour drift through Norway's Telemark Canal, a 7-hour salmon fishing marathon on the Gaula River, and several hours of sweater knitting. U.S.-based NatureVision TV, a Stingray competitor, produces lengthy nature scenes available on Apple TV and other platforms.
For many, slow TV is a real-life antidote to the programming that passes today for reality-based television, an unscripted version of life without all the veneer and carefully engineered drama. As the New Yorker writer Nathan Heller puts it, "it is backward as entertainment because it appears to do its job by casting viewers into their own minds."
"For a segment of the TV viewing audience, slow TV provides a rare video opportunity to tune in and tune out," said Brahm Eiley of Convergence Research Group, a Victoria-based telecom consultancy. "It's the polar opposite of high-charged, reality TV."
Stingray's idea for Ambiance came in the wake of its 2007 purchase of CBC's cable-TV, commercial-free music service, Galaxie, for $65-million. Galaxie, since rebranded as Stingray Music, had a log-fire channel. For years, around Christmas time, it broadcast wood burning in a fireplace with a holiday music soundtrack.
The company eventually began brainstorming with Quebecor Inc.'s Vidéotron, a customer, about what other content it could offer. It came up with the idea for a day divided into several programming blocks, with a serene morning making way for slightly more active scenes in the afternoon. Current blocks are an hour long but will likely move to half an hour over time as content grows, Mr. Péloquin said.
Canadians have a proven appetite for slow TV-inspired ambient content, as exemplified by the first-person-view walks through central Toronto that aired in the late night hours on Global TV until 1993. More recently, Edmonton-based Open Sky Pictures created Kitten TV for Telus, which is simply a program that films small cats being themselves for lengthy stretches of time.