With the timing of a true professional, Silje, the Eurasian Blue Tit (blåmeis), presented an egg on Monday – the last day of Norway’s Easter holiday.
Likely never in past performance history has the star laying an egg made a producer happy.
The latest victory among NRK’s “minute-by-minute” variations in Norwegian viewing, “Piip-Show” streams the feeding and nesting habits of the country’s avian population onto the desktops, cell phones, and tablets of an increasingly global, riveted audience. For three months, from March into June, viewers can follow the cast in the coffee bar feeder and cozy bird apartment through a refreshingly uncomplicated EastEnders with feathers.
Will both Espen and Esther show up in the bar today? Did you see those magpies fighting? Is Silje having contractions or just fussing? And where is Pål Blåmeis – off to the pub, leaving his poor pregnant wife again?
To say it’s addictive is an understatement – as Tweeters, bloggers, and micro-bloggers worldwide can attest. All we need to destroy productivity utterly is an alert app to announce arrivals and departures. (If I’ve missed this, please don’t tell me about it. I have to earn something, sometimes.)
Conceived by birdwatcher and photographer Sten Magne Klann, “Piip-Show” manages the enviable combination of high concept and low budget. A good Internet connection, cameras, and the fantastic “sets” designed by model-maker Lars Autrande – a bird feeder modeled after Oslo’s Java Espressobar and a family fuglekasse (birdhouse) – showcase Norway’s feathered variety, with many of the visitors coming as couples. Nature being the charmer it is, open-mouthed humans stationed at LED screens meet the gaze of a determinedly chomping dompap (bullfinch) or dreamily thoughtful rødstrup (robin) and are hooked.
Autrande’s attention to detail has faithfully reproduced not only an espresso machine, grinder, menu board, and coffee bags (!) but also offers up a mini “television” feed, rotating Twitter and Instagram shots of the show and of various birds from “Piip-Show” fans. The sun goes down on an empty shop, and overnight, colored lighting may bathe the bar in rotating shades of green, purple, and yellow. With the dawn, “business” begins for the commuter rush around 6 a.m. Norwegian time (midnight East Coast U.S. time).
But it’s often later in the day – happily, morning in Philadelphia, for otherwise likely-to-be-sleep-deprived addicts – that the neighborhood show-stealers turn up. The acrobatic Esther and quizzical Fredrik the Great (Spotted Woodpecker) usually perform solo acts, while bar “casuals” – hooligan sparrows, choleric magpies, and looting Great Tits – drop in for happy hour.
Essentially, it’s your online “local.”
On Screen 2, with lighting inside the fuglekasse from around 6 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Norway, the A-story follows Silje and (when home) Pål Blåmeis as they start a new family. Up to and even into Easter weekend – usually marked by the near-total migration of Norway’s human natives to mountain cabins and ski slopes – fans hovered on the NRK message board for the show, wondering if an egg would turn up. While Silje fussed with down and rearranged the straw, an international waiting room of anxious, expectant Homo sapiens looked on.
A great mystery for me is why she felt particular feathers had to go out and different bits of fluff, come in. I spent way too much thought on that conundrum.
We were rewarded with the first egg on Easter Monday. Since then, Silje has faithfully produced an egg a day. While the number varies, Blue Tits will often lay anywhere from 8 to 10 eggs, which they then incubate for around a fortnight.
This is the another element in the appeal of the show (though one a little less accessible to non-Norwegians): the learning component. Magne Klann comes on the conversation stream frequently to answer viewer questions about elements of the show and the birds’ habits, as do professional ornithologists and NRK technical staff. Birdwatching enthusiasts chat with one another and share information, while hobbyists and initiates simply comment on the activity, speculate on what characters are up to, or (as in the case of one American) ask if this is typical viewing for Norwegian audiences. (Well … )
Against the Casablanca-esque backdrop of perpetually entertaining regulars – Espen and Esther, the marauding red squirrels; the quarreling magpie couple, Stine and Sturla; and Hilde and Per Dompap, two bullfinches who never seem to stop eating – the coming months will bring viewers deeper into the domestic life of little Silje as her eggs warm under her and hatch. Then the immense task of feeding squalling youngsters ensues. It’s a drama a great many people can relate to, played out in a snug and pleasantly removed (you try bringing larvae to them all day) setting that, apparently, will expand to at least two additional birdhouses.
I may not get any work done until … summer vacation.
The show also should be an example for practitioners in the media seeking a grip on strategies for audience engagement.
From a conceptual angle, Klann and his “Piip-Show” might be considered the precursors of “slow television” in Norway, tapping into the unique appeal of that genre. The show’s first version broadcast on the Internet in 2003, “live from a bird house decorated like a little dollhouse,” as NRK’s English page describes. “Piip-Show” 1.0 won the NetMedia European Online Journalism award that year, in the entertainment category.
The 2.0 broadcast integrates Twitter (@NRKpiip), Instagram, Imagur and meme generation (such as the notorious “These tits … are suitable for work”), and the show’s own conversation feed, creating enthusiasts out of casual viewers by encouraging their curiosity and wit – as well as their interactions with one another. This brings to the “Piip-Show” community the element Facebook largely lacks: shared focus on an uncontentious “something else.”
That might even be grounds for a Nobel Peeps Prize.
All pictures in this article are screenshots, linked to the online source. Camera work credit goes to the original photographer.