Interactive TV — Do Viewer Choices Make For Happy Endings?
Imagine you were able to make changes to your favorite TV show, especially after enduring a disappointing season. Maybe you could change the ending of film you really liked but thought the ending could have been better. While that may seem like something left only to the realm of imagination, recent enhancements in entertainment technology are making interactive TV possible.
Recent releases from both HBO and the streaming giant, Netflix, suggest that the casual TV viewer will have more opportunities to interact with a scripted series or film in the near future. Whereas viewers, as a whole, can currently impact the outcome of a reality series by voting for a particular contestant on shows like ‘The Voice’ or ‘American Idol.’
Over the holidays, Netflix released ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ which allows viewers to interact with the film by making decisions for the main character which impact the overall ending. The film, which is part of the popular anthology series ‘Black Mirror,’ offers five alternate endings, each determined by the rubric of choices made by the person holding the TV remote.
Experimentation with interactive TV is not new territory for Netflix. According to Entertainment Weekly, the streaming service has previously released similar content on a “more limited and modest scale” with animated short films geared towards children like ‘Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale’ in addition to reportedly “developing a slate of interactive specials to try and bring the format into the mainstream.”
In early 2018, HBO launched the limited series ‘Mosaic.’ The Steven Soderbergh (‘Erin Brockovich, ’Sex, Lies and Videotape’) directed project allowed viewers to get a different experience of the mystery series through a downloadable app.
While the six-part series previously aired on HBO, those who downloaded the app were able to try the interactive ‘branching narrative.’ This allows the app user to view more of what may not have originally aired on TV portion of ‘Mosaic’ allowing for clues in the series to be discovered.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Mosaic app was popular. Upon launching, Mosaic became one of the top 30 entertainment apps for the iPhone, and it garnered over 90 million impressions across mobile app stores.
Although some might find interactive TV to be video game-like, and others just don’t feel up to the task of making decisions for a character in a movie or series they are watching, some will undoubtedly enjoy undergoing the ‘choose your own adventure’ interactivity.
While the jury is still out as for who are in favor of more interactive TV or not, producing such entertainment could present challenges, such as time consumption in the development phase.
Black Mirror producer Annabel Jones and creator Charlie Booker are said to have spent “a full year” producing ‘Bandersnatch,’ according to the New York Times. The effort has even led to the delay of the upcoming fifth season of ‘Black Mirror,’ which is still slated to premiere sometime this year, according to Netflix.
Jones further elaborated on how complex it was to produce the various story lines or ‘permutations’ for ‘Bandersnatch’ in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. Jones said the experience “is like taking a whole ‘Black Mirror’ season with the different genres and experiences, and putting them into one film.”
Production on HBO’s ‘Mosaic,’ also provided some hurdles with the ‘branching narratives.’ According to the Los Angeles Times, script supervisors on the series had to develop a new software to keep track of a script which grew to more than 500 pages, in which a hundred of the pages were written while filming in Utah.