Picture the scene: You're watching Breaking Bad. Walter White is in his underpants, in the van, cooking meth for the first time. In walks Jesse Pinkman. Then, a box pops up on the screen, with multiple options: Does Walter tell Jesse to go home? Does he encourage him to try the supply? You make your choice, and the course of the show is changed forever. You're playing God in the land of make believe.
As alien as it may sound, Netflix are taking a step in that direction, with plans to trial new interactive technology that'll allow subscribers to steer the narrative ship through any course they wish. The Netflix and Choose (unconfirmed, and I expect commission if this name is chosen) strategy will add even more control to audience's viewing habits following the rise of binge watching, but it could it also have a detrimental impact on the industry.
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Netflix Could Be Going Interactive
Talking to the Daily Mail, an unnamed Netflix source explained the ins and out of how the innovative advancement in viewing habits could revolutionize the way millions consume entertainment. They said:
"We’re doing work on branch narratives so you are actually making choices as you watch. All the content will be there, and then people will have to get through it in different ways. We’ll see how it plays out. It’s an experiment. We’ll see if it gets much success. For creators, it’s new territory."
To kick things off, #Netflix will work on a children's show that follows the "choose-your-own-adventure" model, much like the literature equivalent. If things go well, they'll then consider taking the approach in adult shows, possibly one day leading to the first high-profile, fully interactive TV drama. While some additions may be basic — such as whether Jim Hopper punches someone in the face in Stranger Things — the plan is to eventually link up complex plot points, going through a story in "incredibly weird ways."
Is Interactivity Bad For Creativity?
Do audiences actually need control, or is this a cheap gimmick? The element of interaction would be a novelty to begin with, but taking it much further would diminish the creative process. Good storytelling relies on the ability of fictional creations to hold the audience in the palm of its hand, taking them through twists and turns they don't see coming. If at every junction there are multiple options, it becomes a a case of having your cake and (binge)eating it to your heart's content, diluting the overall impact of any outcome.
Plus, for those on the flip side of production, the process could be convoluted. Part of the plan includes filming segments for multiple scenarios, but the more complex the options, the more scenes will need to be filmed. For scriptwriters, directors and actors, it's not hard to imagine that process would take the flow away from the narrative.
That's not to mention, due to increased costs to cater for the above, creating an interactive TV show would become an expensive venture. Rather than a 10 or 13 episode run, if a show were interactive, it'd more likely only run for a few episodes, to allow for the range of possibilities.
Overall, while interactive technology could be useful in small doses, anything more than that would be damaging to the entertainment industry. We live in society where technology makes everything seemingly controllable and instantly available; we can find a date, book a taxi or send a message to the other side of the world on our smartphones. But that doesn't mean we need to control fiction, and play God in someone else's creation.
Is Netflix's decision to introduce interactive TV a step too far?
(Source: Daily Mail)