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Open that door? Netflix explores interactive horror, romance

The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

LOS ANGELES: A Netflix Inc. experiment that began with viewers picking a movie character’s breakfast cereal may expand to letting the audience choose the best on-screen date or the safest path to escape an ax murderer. The world’s largest streaming service wants to try out more interactive entertainment following the response to science-fiction movie “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” executives told reporters this week.

The company is looking for possibilities across a range of genres such as comedy, horror and romance, said Todd Yellin, Netflix’s vice president of product.

“Why can’t you have a romantic title where you get to choose who she goes out with?” Yellin said.

“Or horror titles. Should you walk through that door, or should you dive out that window and get the heck out of there? You can make the choice.”

In “Bandersnatch,” the first decision viewers could make was whether a character would eat Sugar Puffs or Frosties for breakfast.

The idea was to give audiences a simple choice to encourage them to test the technology, which involved clicking via a remote or tapping on the screen to select an option. The movie kept playing even if the viewer did not choose.

The cereal scene became an Internet sensation when “Bandersnatch” was released last December.

“Like many of you, I got addicted to ‘Bandersnatch’ and trying to figure out what’s the significance of the cereal, and not the cereal, all the different options,” Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings said.

The film provided feedback about how long people want to engage with interactive programming and how many choices they want to make, Hastings said. After the cereal decision, viewers selected things such as the type of music a character would play or whether they would jump off a building.

When viewers can direct a story, they feel “really with the character,” Yellin said. “You are more viscerally feeling what they are feeling. You just made the choice for them.”

That is why Yellin wants to try the format in other stories where characters face immense consequences. “Horror is life and death situations constantly,” he said. And in romances, “the emotional stakes are high.”

Yellin said the effort is in its early stages, and Hastings suggested that he does not see interactive entertainment replacing the more traditional storytelling.

“I don’t know if I would do it daily,” Hastings said, “but as part of my viewing, it’s pretty exciting.”

Netflix already has produced a handful of interactive shows for kids, who were immediately receptive to the idea, Yellin said.

“Kids don’t have established rules,” he said. “They assume that’s the way the world should be and they’ll try it.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 21, 2019, on page 11.

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