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16 Oct 2018

Netflix's Black Mirror to give users a choice of stories: Will attractions follow?
BY Luke Cloherty

The episode is to be the first of a number of viewers’ choice specials across brodcaster Netfilx’s ‘Originals’ range of shows

The episode is to be the first of a number of viewers’ choice specials across brodcaster Netfilx’s ‘Originals’ range of shows

The upcoming season of the Emmy-winning science-fiction series Black Mirror, due for release in December, will have an episode that allows users to choose their own story.

The episode is to be the first of a number of viewers’ choice specials across broadcaster Netflix's ‘Originals’ range of shows, which will potentially include two new adaptations of video games.

Bloomberg has reported that sources close to Netflix have said the California-based company has closed a deal for at least one more live-action project and is negotiating the rights to others.

This isn't the first time Netflix has dabbled in these areas. In 2017 the online broadcaster released a new feature based on Puss-in-Boots called Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale. Aimed at children, the show used interactive cut scenes to allow viewers to select how they wanted the story to play out from branching decision paths.

After Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale came two more interactive children’s shows, namely Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile and Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout, while a fourth interactive kids show, Minecraft: Story Mode will air on 7 November 2018.

This next step with Black Mirror is the streaming service's first push into the adult market. Given Black Mirror's popularity – it was the 6th most watched show on the UK Netflix platform in 2017 – and taking its sci-fi format with dystopian consequences into consideration, the show would be a decent measuring stick to see how viewers respond to such a format.

The implications of all of this new interactive programming for the attractions industry could be significant. In 2017, Aaron Bradbury, VFX supervisor for immersive storytelling studio NSC Creative, told Attractions Management about the possibilities of interactive experiences at visitor attractions.

"We know there is a way to make interactive narratives work meaningfully," he said. "As I embark on a journey into multi-narrative experiences within VR, I hope there is a meaningful destination.

"It makes sense to avoid travelling down paths that are already full of dead ends, but nothing is more rewarding than exploring new avenues and finding that special place hidden behind the trees."

Although there may be some roadblocks in the way of these types of interactive experiences' entry to the visitor attractions market, Bradbury was optimistic that they will eventually prevail.

"Linear media loves to toy with the idea of interactive and branching narratives whether it be the setting for visitors to Westworld or the mind-bending world of Rick and Morty,” said Bradbury.

"These interactive and branching narratives are very much in the games industry and the optimistic path is a feeling that among the dead ends, there are many more avenues to explore with this medium."

Netflix’s rivals have been getting in on the act recently in terms of interactive storytelling. HBO, one of its closest competitors, released its first interactive show last year: Mosaic. Directed by Steven Soderbergh, the longer version of the show with the interactive features was available in a separate app on iOS and Android.

So, with Netflix’s latest move towards this type of programming and with HBO’s Mosaic already out there for consumption, will attractions follow? Creating technology-led branching narratives for visitors to consume?

Judging by the constant flurry of rides and attractions that spring up on the back of television shows, it could be evident that one follows the other, with a future where interactive attractions are simply a natural follow-on from interactive television to become the norm.

To read more from Aaron Bradbury and a panel of experts including Merlin Entertainments creative director Paul Moreton, Thinkwell Group principal for attractions and museums Chris Dumrick, and BRC Imagination Arts vice president Christian Lachel, click here.

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