Choose-your-own-adventure (CYOA) stories have long been a part of the storytelling landscape, selling around 250 million copies in the 80s and 90s. Especially for children, these classic books have provided an entertaining way to engage stories. While the CYOA style has largely been reserved for books, there have been a few attempts over the years to apply it to television. NBC reportedly worked on an interactive show back in 2008 that never came to fruition. More recently, this year HBO released the 3-year, $20-million project Mosaic. Wielding the Mosaic app, viewers are able to decide the episode order of the murder mystery mini-series. The show was a moderate success, receiving mixed reviews.
Netflix has also started to break into interactive TV. 2017’s Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile were interactive series that allowed younger viewers to choose how the stories evolved. For Puss in Book, there are a total of 13 narrative choices, while Buddy Thunderstruck has eight. Interestingly, given the correct choices are made, Buddy Thunderstruck has the potential to become an endless, looping story that can go on until your TV stops working. Carla Engelbrecht Fisher, Netflix’s director of product innovation and founder of the game design firm No Crusts Interactive, said that “Kids are already talking to the screen. They’re touching every screen. They think everything is interactive.” In the case of these series, the interactive capabilities are available through some smart TVs, game consoles, iOS devices, and Roku devices. Currently, they are not available on the web, Apple TV, Chromecast, or Android devices. However, if Netflix plans to make more interactive series, they will likely incorporate more devices.
Now, since Netflix experienced some success with their younger audiences, they are planning to build some interactive series for their older audience. However, it’s still unclear how adults will respond to interactive TV. While no concrete plots have been released yet, the shows will allow viewers to pick which storylines they would like to follow, as well as re-watch episodes with different results. Netflix already has another interactive children’s show slated for next year called Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout.
While interactive TV has struggled to hit the mainstream, if anybody can popularize it, it’s Netflix. They have already made major strides in changing the way people consume media, and now they plan on investing between $7 and $8 billion on original content in 2018. If all goes according to plan, also coming in 2018 will be 30 local-language series, 80 movies, 60 kids’ shows, and a handful of animated films. As Netflix continues to compete with cable companies, Amazon, YouTube, and others for subscribers, their reach into the unconventional may give them an upper hand.