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Interactive Films, Data Mining, and Orson Welles

Will interactive films find a viewer niche?

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch on Netflix has was released last December as a choose-your-own-adventure film. If you haven’t read about or tried viewing the film, it’s worth your time to consider the implications for future video content delivery and marketing. Bandersnatch is an interactive film. Viewers are periodically presented with options during the film to choose a path for the main character. The remote control for the TV is used to select between the two paths. So while each option is filmed, only one is shown. There is no prescribed ending for the story. In fact, there are numerous paths and multiple possible endings.


I remember reading interactive books during the early 80s. Though I can’t recall the name of the books or the author, I distinctly remember choosing to have the main character in the book drink the sea water while stranded on a raft in a baking sun. The story ended on the next page as the character met his end with dehydration. I had to backup and choose again. I was devastated with the consequences of my choice!

I didn’t really enjoy those books and only ended up reading two of them. Likewise, I found Bandersnatch more of an annoyance than something intriguing and engaging. Maybe it was the story. Maybe the characters. Whatever the reason, I didn’t feel the urge to continue to play the film to explore different options. I made my choices and moved through the film until I hit an ending and was done.

What’s really happening?

Netflix, as with other media content providers, shows viewers suggested selections of film based on an algorithm using meta data of content watched in the past (comedy, science fiction, thriller, etc.). I’ll admit, the Netflix algorithm is pretty good, as I usually don’t have to scroll far before I see a title or subject that I want to know more about and may want to view. When I’ve seen my wife scrolling through her profile the suggested content is completely different based on her past viewing selections.

Which leads me to wonder what more about me is Netflix determining with an interactive film like Bandersnatch? They can learn if I’m more prone to take a risk versus taking the safe choice. They can learn if I’m prone to choosing a path that will promote violence instead of walking away. They can learn if I would choose the blue pill or the red pill…….The choices would become limitless. Netflix is probably mining all the data on choices to make additional and more educated guesses on personalized content. This could lead to a much deeper level of understanding of who I am, my likes, dislikes, and tendencies. How many marketing companies would pay for that data?

Sure, there is angle here that says find a niche film-type that will keep and potentially attract more customers to Netflix subscriptions. But this move really gets Netflix deeper in the heads of the viewer. Personalized content will become richer. It’ll be like my cell phone listening to my conversation and then I see an ad for what I talked about when I open a browser!

Orson Welles replay.

Here’s an idea for Netflix if they want to spring a joke and cause their viewers to panic. On April 1st, release an interactive film and make the screen of the viewer go haywire as if they have been infected with a virus (think phishing). It would be like revisiting the War of the Worlds broadcasts that created the illusion the earth was under attack by aliens. I can see viewers flooding social media and calling Netflix telling them they’ve been hacked!

I expect Netflix to try more interactive films in the future as they learn from each film and fine-tune output and logistics. With more universal stories and a broader audience, they’ll see how easy it is for all us to willingly give over information about ourselves. Happy data mining to the marketers in the room.  

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/kUFSi7  Fork in the Road by Wonderlane via Creative Commons