How Personalization May Drive Netflix’s Interactive Content

In 2017, Netflix launched its first experiments in interactive content with moments in “Puss in Boots” and “Buddy Thunderstruck” where viewers picked the action. With the “Bandersnatch” episode of sci-fi series “Black Mirror,” the company made its first serious push into interactive content for adults. The episode tells the story of a video game designer trying to adapt an interactive novel that drove its author insane. Netflix vice president of product Todd Yellin has said the company will try again in this “rich vein.”

Wired reports that, “Netflix knows the value of our choices well,” pointing to personalization where a viewer who watches a specific show is then offered new shows. But, it adds, “interactive TV may support more insidious ends.”

“We’re already on the cusp of relinquishing our subconscious to technology: VR headsets that track our gaze and see our pupils dilate; virtual assistants that read our mood; sneakers that can tell we’re getting tired because our running stride falters,” notes Wired. “These are reactions, not choices. They don’t have an opt-out feature. And while they might not seem it, our narrative choices add up to a near-biometric signature too, a portrait visible only in aggregate.”

Although Netflix deems interactivity as a “lean in” experience versus conventional TV’s “lean back,” Wired proposes that Netflix’s minute recording and analysis of our every action “could become part of that great graph that defines how the company sees us,” or, as it dubs it, “television in the age of psychographics.”

A TV show with multiple choices also encourages the viewer to try them all, and “when the show finally ends, you feel respect for creator Charlie Brooker’s ingenuity, but you don’t come away feeling changed, as you might after a tightly written, sharply edited, well-constructed hour of television.” Or, put another way, “the more malleable the story, the less cogent the experience.”

Video games, although also full of choices, are different because, “you may not affect the outcome in an adventure game like ‘God of War’ or ‘Red Dead Redemption 2’ … but navigating the challenges in the story offsets the determinism with a visceral sense of autonomy.” Although Netflix’s “choose-your-own-adventure content will find its audience … interactive TV starts at a disadvantage: It is arriving just as we’ve learned, in so many ways, not to interact at all.”