Netflix is launching two interactive children’s TV shows that let audiences determine the on-screen action.
The animated programmes ask youngsters to choose between two options at several points in their plots.
The firm says the nature of its online streaming platform has allowed it to experiment with “branching narrative” tech in a way that would not be possible for traditional broadcasters.
But it acknowledges that such shows are more costly to make than normal.
“It was actually a little bit more than twice as much animation as a typical episode,” explained Doug Langdale, executive producer of the Puss in Book series, which was made in conjunction with Dreamworks Studios.
“It was about 50 minutes [of footage] where it would normally be 22. Especially with computer animation, that’s tremendously more expensive.
“It’s not easy or cheap. But it’s the next thing, and we’ve got to try it.”
Netflix reported that it had about 100 million subscribers in April.
The programmes can be watched and controlled via smart TVs, games consoles and iOS devices – but cannot be downloaded and viewed offline.
In addition to the special episode of Puss in Book – subtitled Trapped in an Epic Tale – Netflix is making an interactive episode of the stop-motion series Buddy Thunderstruck available.
The former has two possible endings and the latter, four, but in both cases there are several ways that viewers can steer the stories to their conclusions.
It has taken two years to bring the shows to screen, with part of the challenge being trying to ensure their plots remain logical and compelling whatever choices are made.
A third child’s show, based on the superhero Stretch Armstrong, is planned for 2018. But at present Netflix has no plans for adult-themed choice-based shows, nor has it committed itself to making further examples for children.
“The main priority right now is starting to learn how our members are going to engage with this [and] learning how we can tell these stories,” Carla Fisher, Netflix’s director of product innovation, told the BBC.
“Then we will go from there.”
Netflix is far from being the first to develop interactive programming.
Beyond the many video games that have adopted the format, there have been:
- a series of Choose Your Own Adventure DVDs released over the past decade
- an interactive cookery show developed by the BBC. The broadcaster’s R&D team also created a drama whose plot could be shaped in real time to suit each viewer’s personality
- a still-in-development film, four years in the making, from 20th Century Fox, which aims to let audiences collectively vote on plot choices via their smartphones
However, one media analyst said scripted entertainment risked being made “gimmicky” by being forced into an interactive format.
“When it comes to linear entertainment there is an attraction to being presented with a fixed story, and having that crafted narrative presented to you by the director and writers,” explained Tom Harrington of Enders Analysis.
“I doubt Netflix is going to be filled with these kind of interactive shows in 10 years.
“But it does know the value of great press, and it will get lots of publicity out of this.”