Interactive TV Is Finally Here 

It’s just an experiment now, but Netflix is going to allow your grandchildren to decide which way they want a story to unfold on their TV set.

Netflix has announced the first interactive tv programs today which gives young viewers the opportunity to direct their own stories. This technology has been in the making for years. 

In fact, I had a client 30 years ago, ACTV, who tried to do the same thing. The proper technology wasn’t available then but CEO Michael Freeman had the vision. A tech writer at the time, Otis Port, wrote up the concept in a huge story in Business Week.

Now, it’s 2017 and Netflix actually has the first interactive program, Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale.  The tv program gives children dozens of options to change the story over and over. Netflix hopes this kind of programming will give young viewers a chance to be totally creative in their thinking. 

To date. Netflix has 99 million subscribers. If young viewers like this new interactive storytelling, it could become permanent. 

I have a scoop.

Netflix would like to expand this service to adults. Are you ready to become Cecil B. DeMille? 
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 “WE’RE NOT BEHOLDEN TO TERRESTRIAL TELEVISION.”

That led the team to think about interactive storytelling — about whether it could offer a modern, televised version of the old Choose Your Own Adventure series, which sold 250 million copies in the 1980s and ‘90s. The multiple-choice approach to narrative was already the default for video games and educational software. And hit Hollywood movies had also played with branching narratives, from Clue to Sliding Doors to Memento. The fact that interactivity had not yet come to television came to look, from Netflix’s perspective, like a technical problem. And so it set about building.

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For adult Netflix viewers, it’s fun to imagine what an interactive episode of one of its most popular series might look like. A House of Cards where you guide Frank Underwood to power — or undermine him? An Orange Is the New Black where you navigate Piper through a prison break? Maybe they would be full of narrative inventions — or maybe they would feel like modern-day full-motion video games, which had a brief moment of popularity as PC games in the 1990s before giving way to animations.

One thought on “Interactive TV Is Finally Here 

  1. Ha! I wrote a couple books (actually industry directories) of ALL the Interactive TV projects of the ’80s and ’90s. I didn’t recall your work for ACTV, although I also did some work with that company and its Canadian ally Le Groupe Videotron/Videoway. Many lessons learned – and I’m looking forward to seeing Netflix’ mistakes as well as successes. Yes, this is a very different tech time with a much more savvy audience, esp. youngsters. However, one great lesson of ACTV (e.g. its choose your camera angle): professional directors know where to point the camera better than you do! Nonetheless, let’s see what happens.

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