In 1995, American writer RL Stine gave young bibliophiles a new kind of reading experience with his horror series Give Yourself Goosebumps. Unlike a regular book where we read from the beginning to end, Stine and his publisher Scholastic Press experimented with branched storytelling, where the readers could make crucial decisions in the plot. In short, the fate of the protagonist depended on the choices made by the reader.
The format was later aptly adopted by game publishers, giving players more than just the pre-written storylines. Game publishers started offering a play area, rather than a plot, where the players could progress as they wished.
Fast forward to 2018, Netflix (NFLX) is adopting interactive storytelling into a massive platform as live streaming with the latest edition of British series Black Mirror, a show that deals with fears associated with technological advancements.
The episode titled Bandersnatch was premiered on 3 AM ET on Friday. The show offers viewers multiple binary choices as to how the story progresses. The choices may be as simple as the breakfast chosen by the character to more serious decisions that make or break the protagonist.
Netflix also offers the choice to start once again from the beginning with all choices erased.
Last year, the California-based streaming giant had experimented with a kids show in a similar format, called Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale. The success of the show inspired the company to invest in an interactive adults’ show.
Netflix is testing waters with Bandersnatch as multiple narratives on a big canvas like Netflix requires more investment and runs the risk of increased buffering time. Based on the audience reaction, the company would decide on going ahead with this kind of narrative.
As the viewers become directly responsible for the fate of the characters, the company is hoping that they would connect and sympathize better.
Despite its dominant status in the streaming market, Netflix is increasingly facing threat from newcomers including Amazon (AMZN), Hulu and Apple (AAPL). With Disney (DIS) also launching its own streaming platform next year, Netflix needs to think out of the box to stay on the top.