By Laura Bradley for Vanity Fair
If adding a “Skip Intro” button was controversial, it’s hard to imagine the firestorm that Netflix’s latest idea could ignite.
According to a new report, the streaming giant is making a brave new foray into interactive television—and will test the potential format on an upcoming episode of Black Mirror, which is expected to debut a new season in December.
So far, such experiments have been limited to Netflix programming aimed at its youngest viewers. Now it appears the streamer is ready to use the trick more broadly, in a bid to attract new users. But what is this new tactic, really: a fascinating new format or a cheap gimmick?
Per Bloomberg, sources familiar with the initiative say that Netflix is developing multiple specials—television and film—that put viewers in control of their narratives.
One such project is an episode of Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker’s dystopian sci-fi series that’s made a name for itself examining the dark side of technology and its influence on humanity. Per Bloomberg, several of Netflix’s children’s programs, such as Puss in Book, already feature this choose-your-own-adventure style, allowing viewers to decide a show’s narrative course at various junctures, then go back and choose differently if they wish to explore different outcomes.
The format seems, essentially, like a blend of television and video games—though Bloomberg makes clear that Netflix has no intention to venture more overtly into video-game production.
Whether this new initiative is a boon or a blight on the consumer experience remains to be seen. If executed well, it’ll introduce new sorts of storytelling opportunities, and even more engaging content. If executed poorly, the shtick could feel contrived and unnecessary—and given the continued discussion of the company’s perceived lack of quality control, it’s easy to imagine this criticism being lobbed. Still, to Netflix’s credit, starting with Black Mirror seems like a smart move: Brooker and his team seem, perhaps more than anyone, uniquely qualified to use this technology. They’re also more likely than most to make its employment narratively meaningful. After all, the series has already made a whole, horrific episode about the darker side of video games; why not take that idea to its logical conclusion?