Netflix changed the game for streaming services when Bandersnatch dropped last December. The Black Mirror installment allows viewers to control the story they’re watching, a privilege that turned the program into an instant viral sensation. Riding off its popularity, Netflix has announced two more interactive shows in the works. The first being You vs. Wild, a survival adventure with the legendary Bear Grylls, and the other an animated series called Battle Kitty.
Just to clarify, Bandersnatch wasn’t the first interactive show on the streaming platform. Although it was the first live-action one geared toward older subscribers, Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale is the true pioneer for this format. Initially pitched as a “branching” show, this idea from Netflix’s product innovation team was a way to differentiate the company from the other streaming services. The concept was successful enough to lead to four more interactive programs for kids, including Battle Kitty.
In the animated series, which is set in a “futuristic-medieval” world, Kitty conquers the monsters on Battle Island in hopes of being crowned Champion. Kids can help Kitty’s quest while also being able to experience their own adventure in the story created by Matt Layzell (The Amazing World of Gumball).
With You vs. Wild, Netflix plans to also continue catering to adults with this kind of programming. The famed survivalist Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) lets the audience control his next adventures in the eight-episode series. Viewers will get to decide which path Grylls will take and, according to the trailer, his survival is now in their hands. If we learned anything from how some people interreacted with Bandersnatch, Grylls will be given plenty of examples of how not to survive in the wilderness.
Even the trailer for You vs. Wild has an interactive aspect. The first choice to decide whether or not to answer a FaceTime call from Grylls. And as someone with a lot of arachnophobia, I recommend you take that call.
But is all of this interactive TV just Netflix’s interpretation of a video game? It could be, according to an article from Wired, however video games are just another form of storytelling. Both formats give the illusion of choice, but there are a finite number of possible outcomes. No matter what you make your avatar do in a video game or what cereal you picked in Bandersnatch, you can only find one of the endings designed by its creators.
The Wired article also identifies a potential issue with the interactive programs, as they give the complete opposite experience of modern TV shows or films. Whereas most things on Netflix can be lazily binged, an interactive program forces the viewers to take part in creating the narrative. This change in delivery for the story being told could be discouraging for audiences. Plus not all devices can access the interactive programs. Only time can tell if these current limitations will be the end of the streaming service’s rebranding of video games or if they are the first hurdles in the future of entertainment.
Depending on the success of You vs. Wild, this could be the start of a new era of programming from Netflix and possibly other streaming services. Who knows, one day we might live in a world where we can decide with Marie Kondo if something sparks joy or help someone get Queer Eye-ed and make ourselves cry even more.
The release date for Battle Kitty has yet to be announced, You vs. Wild will be available starting April 10th.