Down what path will Netflix’s Bandersnatch lead digital video in 2019?

by Nicholas Graham, Digital Strategist

‘Down what path will Netflix’s Bandersnatch lead digital video in 2019? ’

Three days after Christmas and we’d played the annual game of Monopoly, eaten a mountain of food and drunk twice as much as we said we would. We’ve watched Elf, Home Alone 2, Frozen and the new James Bond movie without moving from the sofa, and finally browsed online for a few January Sale bargains. When out of nowhere a special Black Mirror film is released on Netflix. Surely there’s room for one more film…

Only Bandersnatch isn’t like many others we’ve seen, it’s a “choose your own adventure” film where people are asked to have control on the narrative by deciding the preferred paths of the protagonist as they are presented throughout the movie by making a selection using their remote control. The first option, for example, is to determine which breakfast cereal our hero should eat.

It’s not the first use of interactive TV but it is arguably the first successful use of the format, which has forced many to ask what implications this may have on the future of entertainment.

Here are the things we learned about the release of Bandersnatch:

New Marketing Revenue
The opportunity for viewers to consciously select a cereal gives brands the opportunity to engage with consumers in a fun and easy way and, crucially, in a natural setting, rather than asking them to sit through a 30-second commercial – in which they will inevitably turn to their phone or put the kettle on. This sees advertising move towards a truly native format and paves with the way for all manner of clever and novel ways for brands to engage with audiences.

True Innovation
Although not clear how much the new technology cost Netflix in revenue and resource, what’s clear is that they are choosing to reinvest their profits back into the platform via technological innovation to help aid their growth. It’s not the first foray into interactive TV but it is certainly the most widespread. Whether interactive storytelling kicks off in 2019 or not, perhaps original programming can only go so far for today’s audiences. Twitch and Facebook have already tested versions of interactive TV with “Artificial” and “Relationshipped” respectively.

At 90 minutes Bandersnatch was longer than your average TV show but a combination of the story and the novelty of the new technology kept my attention. There are many ways to improve this functionality, such as asking for more detail for character development or opting instead for the story to continue.

Data harvesting
It’s one thing understanding what somebody wants to watch, it’s another to understand why they watch, what they watch. For example, I might enjoy a superhero movie for the action while my wife might appreciate for Chris Hemsworth – we won’t know until we have the option to choose. Once you know what people are interested in within video content, the personalisation available will become very useful.

Could this put a stop to illegal streaming?
Nothing is for certain but with the increased complexity of technology used for a movie like Bandersnatch, it becomes incredibly difficult for users to stream interactive movies through any platform other than the original. I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see more from the likes of the BBC and Amazon next year.

Gateway for VR
With such immersive and interactive storytelling, this should pave the way for Virtual Reality video viewing. Having to pay attention to the story throughout, and impacting decisions, would make sense to completely fold users into the mix through VR.

What could mess things up?
The novelty will soon wear off and what once seemed like a fun decision to choose between red or blue, will become an annoyance within the story, something that doesn’t feel natural and breaks the flow of the narrative.

Communal watching will become a thing of the past, we may enter an age where no two people would be able to watch the movie they want to watch, but a version dictated by the person who had control of the remote.

Advertisers lose site of what is native and instead try to force unnatural products and services into films and programmes. As we’ve seen with other forms of advertising (banners, mid-roll, pop-ups etc) this will be annoying and may switch some users off.

Final thought
Increasingly, people are preferring to curate their own experiences rather than use the blueprints from experts. This can be seen within music where we now curate our own music playlists when previously we would wait for the new version of NOW or listen to the radio. We also plan our own weddings and holidays rather than using a planner or a consultant. The best example of things we like to curate is our stream of news and updates, once the privilege of news editors, we have now given ourselves the control to indulge in the news that we prefer. This trend towards curated lifestyles has now reached entertainment and although it won’t be a ‘hit’ for everyone, there is a market for it which brands will also need to reflect within their 2019 video strategies.