As Norway’s chess hero Magnus Carlsen played his way to yet another remis (draw) on Tuesday, lots of Norwegians remained glued to their televisions. State broadcaster NRK’s decision to televise all the world championship matches live has led to ratings almost as impressive as Carlsen’s own.
Fully 700,000 viewers tuned in when NRK started up its live broadcasts during the weekend, reported media website Kampanje. Even though the games going on in Chennai, India begin mid-morning in Norway (10:30am local time), NRK is claiming strong viewership in a country of just 5 million people.
Around 194,000 viewers were watching on Sunday, giving NRK a 42 percent share of the market. The games are anchored in Oslo by a sports journalist with expert commentary and graphics that attempt to explain the intricacies of chess to a broad audience.
On Tuesday, as chess fever continued to grip the country, viewers were even sending messages on social media that they were cutting classes at school to watch, or avoiding work to follow Carlsen’s progress. And the ultimate “slow TV,” marked by long stretches where Carlsen and defending world champion Vishy Anand are simply staring at the chess board, was even described as “incredibly exciting” and “full of suspense.”
VGTV, produced by newspaper VG’s media house, is also experiencing strong viewership and heavy traffic. Around 90,0oo viewers followed VG’s coverage on Saturday and another 75,000 on Sunday, while clips from the world championship have been viewed more than 420,000 times, reports Kampanje.
Much of the interest is simply tied to Carlsen himself, who’s finally getting the widespread recognition accorded Norway’s skiing or football stars. The 22-year-old chess wonder who grew up just outside Oslo seems to take it all in customary stride, though, showing little sign of being overwhelmed by all the hype around him.
Slept late, played basketball
His manager Espen Agdestein told NRK on Tuesday that Carlsen slept late on Monday, when he and Anand had a day off, and then he and Carlsen went to a local school to play some basketball and work out. Carlsen has put a lot of emphasis on physical fitness recently, telling foreign correspondents in Oslo before he left for India that “in general, physical activity is good for the body and good for the brain. If I feel well, I play well.”
Some chess experts and highly rated players have complained that Carlsen and Anand have been playing too defensively in their three opening games, and that play has been boring. Carlsen himself told reporters after Tuesday’s game that he was “glad he survived” and that he thought the third game was “exciting” and went “back and forth.” It was all a bit nerve-wracking, Carlsen said.
Just ‘an extra step’
Again, Carlsen and those around him are keeping what’s being called the entire world championship “circus” in perspective. Even though the Chess World Championship “is probably the biggest single event so far in his career,” Carlsen’s father Henrik told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend, “I would say that what he’s achieved overall in sum exceeds the world championship itself.”
Becoming world champion “will be an extra step on the way,” the man who taught his son to play said, “but it won’t represent anything completely new.”