Entertainment TV Bear Grylls and Black Mirror are doing it: How interactive TV might be the next big thing

Bear Grylls and Black Mirror are doing it: How interactive TV might be the next big thing

Bear Grylls
"You're in charge here. t's a bold choice," Bear Grylls tells viewers of his new interactive TV show. Photo: Netflix
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With Wednesday’s launch of the eight-part Netflix series You vs. Wild, armchair adventurers armed with a remote control will be able to dictate the on-screen destiny of survival instructor host Bear Grylls.

“Dense jungles, towering mountains, brutal deserts and mysterious forests await, with tough decisions around every corner,” reads the official synopsis.

“In this ground-breaking interactive adventure series, you make all the decisions.”

Grylls gets even more colourful, telling viewers “you decide” what happens to him on his odyssey and amping up suspense as he skis, climbs cliff faces and goes tunnelling.

Thanks to interactive TV, “My adventure is up to you,” he says.

“Together, you and I are going to find our way back to civilisation. And if you don’t make the right choices, it might not end well for me.”

Beyond the nifty concept, “Interactivity adds a lot of new experiences to stories, such as personal complicity,” Dr Marcus Carter, lecturer in digital cultures at the University of Sydney, tells The New Daily.

“It’s a really exciting convergence of digital games and TV that really just highlights how engaging stories in digital games have been for a long time.”

The idea behind interactive TV has been around in various forms for decades.

1953’s Winky Dink and You saw kids in the US buy a special transparent sheet to place over the TV and use crayons to draw connect-the-dot pictures— such as a bridge over a lake— to help out the characters on screen.

Netflix’s initial forays into the genre also kicked off with kids-targeted shows such as 2017’s Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile.

The streaming giant then ventured into the lean-in format for adults in December 2018 with Bandersnatch, a standalone movie based on the dystopian sci-fi series Black Mirror, complete with alternate endings and soundtracks.

It was a hit, generating pop-culture buzz, scoring a critics’ approval rating of 71 per cent on film website Rotten Tomatoes and, perhaps most importantly, proving that grown-ups would come to play.

“We didn’t know what adults would do,” Netflix’s San Francisco-based director of product innovation Carla Engelbrecht told gaming website IGN.

“What we saw with Bandersnatch is that the adults engaged even more than kids. We saw 94 per cent of adults actually making active choices which is just an absolutely thrilling number for us.”

The format promises serious cut-through, for viewers, producers and potential advertisers.

“There is another element to all this, which is the data that is going to be collected from viewers from interactive television,” Dr Carter said.

“It will be interesting to see how that data will go on to inform the production of new shows, and how our choices, rather than passive viewing, will be used to generate value for the platform.”

You vs. Wild, with a household name host in former British SAS serviceman Grylls and a fun-for-the-whole-family format, seems to be a bold leap towards mainstreaming this type of choose-your-own-adventure content.

“I don’t think that this is going to replace TV,” Dr Carter said.

“But I am excited about the potential for the new types of stories that are going to be told.”

So too, is Netflix.

“We’re having a lot of conversations about all sorts of different kinds of stories,” Ms Engelbrecht told IGN. “The possibilities are endless.”

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