Within the globally popular Netflix series “Black Mirror”, a new, but also special episode “Bandersnatch” was broadcast on the eve of the New year. The peculiarity of this episode is in its interaction. The main character is an IT specialist who works on the development of a new interactive computer game, and viewers actively participate not only in his work but also in his life, as they have to make appropriate decisions by clicking at certain moments, choosing the direction in which the story goes on. There are 5 major possible endings, as well as a number of additional variants, so the number of the story outcomes is practically unlimited.
Of course, this episode has become one of the main topics, not only among Netflix users but much more users as it represents the beginning of a new era of content usage. When we think a bit more, it shouldn’t be such a big surprise, because it’s not a novelty. Here, it’s practically only about handling the consumption of content which had already been developed in this new media world. Anyone with their profile on one of the social networks is already a protagonist in interactive programs and plays different roles in diverse contents of various genres at the same time. It can be achieved through disputes on the Twitter, comments on different Facebook posts, then through participating in discussions on the given subject, or publishing instagramized episodes from their own lives and following similar episodes from the lives of others, whatever… In all of these channels, we are at the same time viewers and protagonists, and with our reactions, we direct the flows of all these stories in which we participate.
This is exactly why this “Black Mirror” episode led to fertile imagination. “Our job is to think about what else can Internet TV do, unlike the linear TV,” explained Carla Engelbrecht, Director of Netflix Product Innovation, stating that this was the main motive they followed when deciding on recording this episode. The final decision was preceded by the testing of interactive programs for children, which lasted more than a year. “If that hadn’t worked with children, we would have given up this idea,” explains Todd Yelilin, Netflix Vice President of Product Development.
The production of such original interactive content is one of the strategic directions for the development of Netflix. That’s why the company invested in technology that will enable it, but also in the development of special software for more efficient mapping of these interactive stories and monitoring the reaction of viewers-participants at every point of their interaction and the cause-and-effect relationship of different decisions for the further development of the story. Or, in translation, another tool has been developed that will help others to understand us better than we are capable of understanding ourselves.
In addition to technological superiority, Netflix’s global dominance gives this company a strategic advantage over competitors who also work on developing interactive content, such as HBO or Prime Video owned by Amazon, and here we can also add Apple, Disney, Warner Media, AT&T and Comcast. Today, Netflix has 140 million subscribers in 190 countries around the world. In the last quarter only, it has acquired 8.8 million subscribers, acquiring another 80 thousand new ones each day.
Positioning itself in this way, Netflix also made an open call to creative people around the world to use this unique platform and its financial resources for the realization and placement of their ideas and projects. Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer in Netflix, explains the company’s program strategy in which the common interests of the author and company meet: “More programs, more views; more views, more subscribers; more subscribers, higher income; higher income, more programs.” Someone has already predicted that Netflix is becoming the Coca-Cola of audio-visual industry.
Another proof of the efficiency of the investment strategy in the development of interactive content has recently arrived from an unexpected direction, thanks again to another Netflix program. It’s about the science-fiction thriller “Bird Box” with Sandra Bullock in the main role. In this film, the main character is Malorie who tries to protect herself and her two children from the monsters that have mastered the planet by doing everything blindfolded to avoid establishing visual contact with monsters which would result in taking control over them.
The Birdbox movie broke all rating records. Only during the first weekend, the Netflix movie was viewed from 45 million accounts, which means that the actual number of viewers was much greater. According to the criteria of the traditional film industry, the first indicator of film success is the number of viewers in cinemas for the first weekend, “Bird Box” would have the most successful “opening weekend” of all time. But for our story, another information about this film is much more important. Shortly after the successful premiere, Netflix warned viewers not to try to do things with a blindfold, as the main actress in the movie does, as this can be dangerous. Namely, it has been noticed that people make videos on which they perform a variety of things blindfolded, and then they upload videos on their media channels, with the desire to become involved in the story themselves and become part of this new world phenomenon.
Obviously, it turns out that interactivity has already exceeded the boundaries of traditional media content formats. In the case of the “Black Mirror” episode, the idea of interactivity was pre-planned and embedded in the program. In the case of “Bird Box”, it caused an unplanned effect. But both the first and the second example tell us that the future belongs to the content in which yesterday’s passive viewer becomes an active participant.
Let’s make this clear, films and TV sitcoms have always produced a desire for imitation and association. People want to look like popular movie stars, following the fashion trends they set, it’s nothing new. What is new here is a virtual world in which each of us can perform together with characters from a film or sitcom as real participants, being able to determine the course of the action, and above all, to publish it to the whole world. So, finally, we are entering a wonderful brave new world! Welcome!