Netflix Disrupts TV With Interactive Storytelling

Choose your own adventure

We’ve all heard the story – in 2000, Blockbuster turned down the opportunity to buy innovative streaming site Netflix, and in doing so they dug their own grave. Netflix quickly transformed the entertainment industry, replacing traditional linear TV with on demand, online streaming. The days of video rental were numbered. Since then, Netflix has attracted almost 100 million subscribers. The company isn’t just distributing content, either – it’s creating it too. As one of the most disruptive forces in the industry, it’s not surprising that the company is pursuing a policy of self disruption. Last month, the site revealed a completely new way to experience online streaming. It’s called interactive storytelling, and it makes you the director.

A new entertainment model

Interactive entertainment is a key media trend. Virtual and augmented reality have brought digital environments to life, whether it be a game, a historic event or a plush hotel. Changing the entire outcome of a feature length film or programme, however, is totally new. You can see why Netflix has made this move – how many times do you watch a programme or film and find yourself disappointed with the ending? Interactive storytelling is all about giving consumers more control over content, bringing personalisation to home cinema.

Netflix is currently working alongside DreamWorks Animation Television, American Greetings Entertainment and Stoopid Buddy Stoodios to bring out a number of customisable films. Their first feature, ‘Puss in Books: Trapped in an Epic Tale’, launched in June. Viewers get to choose which adventures Puss embarks on by using their remote or by touching the screen to select options. It might sound simple now, but no doubt the long term aim is to make options more and more complex.

How will interactive storytelling affect the industry?

If you want entertainment to be entertaining, it has to be immersive. Interactive streaming is upping Netflix’s entertainment value over similar sites like Amazon Prime, Sony’s Crackle, Now TV and even YouTube by offering exactly that. Giving people the chance to be participants in a story improves satisfaction and engagement levels, as well as gathering data about how subscribers want films and shows to end. These insights could help the company to create better content. By turning passive programmes into active experiences, Netflix’s new service could even disrupt viewer habits. The cacophony of consumer devices in our homes has enabled individuals to watch their own preferred programmes on separate screens, which can become antisocial. If streaming becomes more interactive, then it could encourage more sociability in domestic environments. This is probably why their first feature films are decidedly geared towards family entertainment. As well as this, the existence of multiple storylines is bound to create a conversation between viewers, extending the company’s influence even further which will definitely benefit Netflix and their subscribers.

Netflix has already caused a stir in traditional entertainment by upsetting the ‘distribution order’ of the industry. Incumbent businesses are likely to see interactive storytelling as an upstart challenge to established models, which they won’t take kindly to at all. This, however, is the nature of disruption – and all Netflix has to do is keep its subscribers happy.

Like many of today’s most successful businesses, Netflix has realised that in order to survive, it’s necessary to innovate and disrupt. Interactive storytelling is one example of this approach in action, taking an ingrained model and applying wider business trends like personalisation and immersion. Other companies, disgruntled as they may be, will also want a slice of the pie. Sites like Amazon Prime, BT TV and Crackle may well introduce their very own interactive stories – but they’ll have a long way to go before they catch up. Either way, giving subscribers the power to change the outcome of a story is a transformative move for entertainment. The question is, will consumers really want to direct the content they watch? We’ll see.

Will Netflix maintain a monopoly over interactive storytelling? Could interactive streaming change viewing habits? Has the growing number of consumer devices encouraged antisocial streaming? Share your thoughts and opinions.