When we first met 29-year-old Tarjei Theo Flove, he had lived with lymphoma for 18 months. The disease can be fatal, but 95% recover with chemotherapy treatments, according to the doctors. Nevertheless, Flove refused the treatment: He believed in recovering by a specific diet and through the power of his own mind.
We wanted to tell his story in a documentary created for an online audience. Therefore, we wanted to experiment with storytelling and dramatic composition. Specifically, we wanted to engage a younger audience.
After following Flove with a camera for more than three years, we knew we had a unique story to tell. But how could we get the audience to watch the entire story?
VG reaches half of the Norwegian population (5.4 million) every day. We specialise in news, entertainment, and sport. Most of our readers use their mobile phones to be quickly updated on today’s news; they do not visit our news site to watch full-length documentaries. To tell this story, we decided to present this as an online documentary.
Building audience engagement
Instead of one long, traditional documentary, we broke it into four short episodes. The series was presented on a custom Web site made by VG — only a click away from our front page. The viewers were met by a 40-second teaser video that began running immediately and quickly brought the audience into the story.
By scrolling down, viewers could access the four separate episodes. Each episode lasted for approximately 15 minutes and had a carefully considered dramatic composition, always ending with a cliffhanger to keep the audience in suspense. The different episodes made it easy to take breaks from the documentary and return to it at a time that was convenient for the viewer.
Reaching a young, female audience
The documentary was especially popular among two groups that are difficult to reach: young people and women. Of the viewers, 78% were under the age of 45 and 71% were women.
The numbers showed viewers were binge watching “Tarjei’s Experiment.” On average, every unique viewer was watching 22 minutes of the documentary, which is an excellent amount of time on a mobile phone.
People all over Norway were provoked and fascinated by this story, and it generated debate in social media regarding alternative treatment. After we published the story, doctors reached out to us, asking to use “Tarjei’s Experiment” as a part of the education for medical students. Doctors believe the story can make it easier for students to understand and respect patients like Flove and make it easier to talk to patients who refuse treatment.
The story continues
The turning point in “Tarjei’s Experiment” occurs when he decides to take chemotherapy. At that point, Flove was so sick he could barely move, talk, or breathe. He responded well to the treatment and got better, but didn’t completely recover.
The last episode ends as it all started: Flove refusing treatment for the second time. We are still following and filming him on this journey. The entire documentary can be seen here.
Banner photo by Janne Møller-Hansen at VG.