Netflix to trial interactive TV

Alex Kidman 10 March 2017

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Do you want to choose your own adventure when you watch, or just sit back and veg?

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll recall the Choose Your Own Adventure books. These were popular children’s gamebooks with the core concept being that they were non-linear books that asked you as the reader to make choices and flip to specific pages to see how those choices affected the ongoing story. If you’re geeky, you’ll probably more fondly remember the classic Fighting Fantasy gamebooks that added more interactive elements such as dice rolls into the mix. The idea was that kids would be more engaged with reading because they were making the choices that changed the narrative, rather than being guided along a fixed path.

Netflix is reportedly going down the interactive fiction route, with plans to produce a children’s TV series that will integrate elements of viewer choice into the narrative. While it has experimented with interactive elements before, with the Kong: King of The Apes series having unlockable bonus viewing content, this new series will apparently go the full hog of recording and offering up differing outcomes depending on viewer choice.

DigitalSpy reports that the whole endeavour is being pitched by Netflix in order to determine viewer preferences for this kind of material. An unnamed Netflix source has been reported as stating that, "We first introduced interactive elements to our Kids series Kong in April 2016. We will continue to experiment in this format to learn more about what our members enjoy."

Interactive video isn’t a new concept by any stretch of the imagination. It has a history that spans half a century, all the way back to 1967’s Kinoautomat, which used a narrator to help audiences pick narrative outcomes.

As technology progressed, and more easily-branching viewing formats such as Laserdisc gained prominence, so too could the growth of interactive film. Who could forget the classic interactive video boardgame Nightmare?

There are some significant narrative challenges with this kind of approach. The choices either have to be modest, in which case the audience interaction is likewise simplified, or you have to shoot a lot of later content in quite different styles to allow viewer choice to make significant changes. As with much of its Originals content, Netflix can naturally experiment to see what suits audiences best and drop the format entirely if it fails to gain any traction.

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