In a modern media landscape where we can choose exactly what we watch, when we watch it, and even where we watch it, you can see why the premise of then being in control of our content’s storylines has appeal.
At the end of 2018, Netflix did just that; released ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’, the first interactive film on the platform. Since then they have started to follow up with other interactive TV shows, such as Bear Gyrlls: You VS the Wild and a series of children’s titles.
And Netflix isn’t the only platform exploring interactive content; Youtube has also created a new division under their Youtube Originals channel to develop interactive programming and live specials.
But the real question is, will this actually change the way we connect with TV in the long term, or is it just a temporary gimmick?
Bandersnatch worked because it was the first of its kind so attracted a large amount of ‘curiosity’ viewing, but also because of the huge popularity and success of Black Mirror as a series anyway. And whilst Bandersnatch did generate a huge amount of viewership, it can be said that this success was more novelty than genuine enjoyment, and there was a large amount of criticism from consumers and critics, claiming “they lost sight of actual character development and concentrated too much on the decision making.”
When we look at Thinkbox’s ‘Age of Television’ research, we see that the main need that TV satisfies, is to help people relax through distraction, unwinding and comfort. This is the reason TV viewing, whilst fragmented across different devices and platforms, will always survive as at the end of the day people want to forget about work or their daily struggles and switch off from thinking.
Chart 1: Thinkbox, 2018
This is why the ‘Do’ need state only makes up 2% of the reasons people watch TV. And this is where I believe interactive content would sit. When discussing interactive TV with Forbes, Nicole Martin from NR Digital Consulting similarly states “many people use TV shows to escape for a bit and relax. However, when you are in charge of the storyline, is this a relaxing experience or something even more stressful?”
Behaviourally, we find making choices difficult. Rational choice theory is a framework in Behavioural Science which believes that when presented with a choice, their cognitive instinct will be to choose whichever option will maximize their interests and provide them with the greatest benefit. When applied to TV, this is why the majority of the time we would rather put on a show that requires less brain-power or something we’ve already seen – explaining why Friends repeats are still delivering huge numbers even after all these years!
Only time will tell for certain, however I would suggest we are leaning more towards ‘gimmick’ than ‘game-changer’.