Opinion

Has Bandersnatch changed the game – or is it just a great Netflix marketing ploy?

The latest Black Mirror film from Charlie Brooker delivered a level of gamification and interactive elements not seen before in television – Singapore Press Holdings head of marketing and communications Koh Weng Wai gives his verdict on the Netflix experiment

According to data provided by Netflix, the film was watched more than 45 million times during its first week of premier – which is a new record. These numbers are astounding (without third-party metrics, then how can we know for sure?), but they are for Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock, not the much-discussed Bandersnatch.

While I don’t expect Bandersnatch, the new interactive film from Netflix, to achieve those same numbers – I would be very surprised if Netflix reveals any numbers at all actually – I suspect that it will be seen as somewhat of a success in the eyes of the streaming provider.

Firstly though, there will be no spoilers here. On my own social media feeds, I’ve seen many postings from those who have been watching (or should I say ‘playing’) and re-watching it for hours, and also from those who tried for 10 or 15 minutes and then gave up.

Koh Weng Wai tuned in to Netflix for Bandersnatch, but how many others did?

Generally, there is a lot of buzz around the film and that quickly spreads. The choose-your-own-adventure concept does appeal to a somewhat unique audience – those who are old enough to remember the adventure books. This audience segment may place a certain cult appeal on the programme.

For the wider general audience though, the response has been mixed at best. For if we deep-dive into the experience of watching Bandersnatch, it appears that the most optimal way to view it is via your mobile device (tablet or mobile phone), personal computer and smart television (with the latest version of Netflix).

Mirroring and casting on Chromecast and AppleTV from your mobile phones does not work and using the Netflix app on AppleTV will result in an apology email from Netflix. In short, to watch it and not end up with the auto-selection of choices made for you, you may not be able to watch it on your living room TV while chilling out on your couch.

This tech problem immediately cuts out a large segment of the audience from the fun. Therefore, the experience was not consistent across all platforms and did not make it easy for anyone slightly behind the technology curve to digest the content. I very much doubt that the idea of watching it on the Netflix website, on a personal computer, is an experience that appeals to the masses.

Now, at the same time, let’s not take away the glimmer from Bandersnatch. While interactive films have been around since the days of Shockwave and Flash, this is still a groundbreaking experience in terms of how the immersive content can be engaged with.

It’s tempting to say the little kinks still need to be worked out, but it’s more than that though. Deploying a consistent experience across many smart TVs, mobile devices and any other platforms will be just as difficult going forwards.

Mirroring and casting must at least be made available to expand the screen size for mobile device users and extend the potential audience for interactive shows like this.

We have probably seen enough, however, from this first toe dipped in the water to know that Netflix will be doing this (interactive content) more in the future – as it is, indeed, a gateway to higher-level engagement with the viewers. At some point, the technology will probably be used for ecommerce shopping as well. It could be a highly lucrative medium.

Right now though, what we are seeing is a new segment of the film industry. The gamification of TV will definitely lead to more bonus features, alternate-ending options and the perceived notion of viewer choice.

Either that or this could just be another case of masterful Netflix marketing. If so, we may need to select an alternate path as consumers. The choice is yours. Or is it?

Koh Weng Wai is head of marketing and communications at Singapore Press Holdings

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