Netflix boosts bet on interactive TV with wave of new kids shows

Font Size

NETFLIX INC. is turning three of its popular kids programs into interactive specials, increasing its bet on a choose-your-own-adventure approach to TV.

The company plans to make interactive episodes or specials out of Carmen Sandiego, Boss Baby, and Last Kids on Earth, according to people familiar with the company’s plans. They will all be movies or one-off specials rather than full series, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plans haven’t been announced.

Those three programs bring the company’s overall slate of interactive series to at least a dozen, including a fourth series that couldn’t be identified. That’s far more than any other major TV network, a sign Netflix sees this burgeoning medium as a way to attract subscribers and keep them loyal.

The episodes are a hybrid of traditional narrative TV series — where the viewer just sits back and watches — and video games, where the viewer controls the protagonist. Each episode presents the viewer with choices to select what a character does, or where they go next.

Netflix released its first choose-your-own-adventure program in June 2017, Puss in Book, featuring a character from the world of Shrek. The company started off its first interactive experiments with kids programs because young people grow up with screens, and are already talking to them and swiping on them.

Early successes encouraged Netflix to try the approach with adults, starting with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a spin-off from the titular dystopian drama, and You vs. Wild, in which viewers made decisions to help adventurer Bear Grylls survive in the wild.

More than 90% of viewers of Bandersnatch made some kind of choice during the show, according to one of the people familiar with the matter, once again encouraging Netflix to experiment more. The company will now fund interactive specials in new genres, such as romance, comedy, or drama, said the person.

Netflix is also going to experiment with how often to prompt viewers to engage. The company has introduced a new choice every one to four minutes, but it will test prompts that are both more frequent — say, every 30 seconds — and less frequent — say, every five minutes.

Netflix’s investment in interactive series has helped bring more attention to a format once relegated to the fringes of entertainment. YouTube plans to fund choose-your-own-adventure original series, and Walmart Inc. has invested in Eko, a start-up that specializes in interactive programming.

Interactive series still constitute a small minority of Netflix’s overall programming output. The company will release hundreds of programs just this year. But Netflix is looking for shows that speak to a general audience and cross many genres.

All three of these new interactive series hail from the company’s kids-and-family pipeline, but Netflix’s next interactive release will be a finale to the adult comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. —Bloomberg