DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in Netflix (2)


REVIEW: Netflix's "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch"

<This review contains spoilers>

As somebody who has been looking at the coming of interactive storytelling as the “next big thing” for more than 20 years, Netflix’s release of “Bandersnatch” interactive movie from Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ team was cause for cautious celebration. Here for once we would have a major global media/tech brand willing to commit its credibility, technical team, and an IP crown jewel to an interactive story outside the formal videogame format. For years I railed that Netflix, Hulu, Prime and the other OTT providers offered less inventive ancillary content than DVDs and even less experimentation than cable, that much-maligned dinosaur.

Alas, my enthusiasm wilted, when leaks indicated that Netflix’s story format would rely upon the “choose your own adventure” trope – basically a branched narrative. Many have tried and failed with this warhorse from our childhoods. When Bandersnatch’s first user choice was the protagonists’ breakfast cereal, I was positively morose. Here we go again, I thought. Nevertheless, I persisted, and I’m glad I did. Very quickly it was clear that choices were consequential to the plot, forcing choices between two unappealing options. Sometimes, it seemed, my choice wasn’t the “right” choice, and the app performed its own form of reboot—a bit like those “previously on,,,” montages that we’re used to seeing at the beginning of a new episode. Sometimes when this happened, I was presented with the same two options, sometimes the choices were different. I’ve read that the story had five different endings and very large number of plot permutations. I found my way to three of the five, each time learning something new about the way the system worked. Overall, I’d give this one three out of five stars.

The engineers were successful in building an assembly engine that delivers seamless scene integrations with very few exceptions. Ditto with story continuity – the flashbacks or whatever you call them, included visual and audio confirmation of my choices every time. The gameplay (the interaction with the story and the app) is enhanced greatly by the content of this actual story itself, which centers on a young game designer bedeviled by trauma and mental issues as he is building his dream game, the Bandersnatch of the title (HT to Lewis Carroll and later to Philip K. Dick) based on a novel whose author cracked up violently before it could be finished. Boom: Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny…. Along the way, our hero’s crack-up (or the reality of two parallel universes that can reboot) begins to embrace the actions of the Netflix user herself, which is mildly funny as presented.

Over the years I’ve quipped that interactive stories won’t become mainstream until they make me cry, a glib way of suggesting that the inherent problem with interactive stories is that they simply cannot achieve the dramatic compression, pacing, and narrative immersion of a traditional storyform, since the user is constantly pulled out of the story to do something. Did Bandersnatch overcome this problem? Not really, although the story segments that this app assembled did provide a lot of the same pleasure as other Black Mirror dystopian episodes, and an odd form of suspense was generated as different iterations of the story unfolded, a bit like ‘Groundhog Day.’ Like other Black Mirror entries, in Bandersnatch the characters can’t win, technology is in charge; choice is an illusion, and so forth. 

I was left with the conclusion that Black Mirror was a good choice for Netflix to test the backend authoring system given Brooker’s obsession with how tech and culture impact human consciousness. Whether Brooker & company use the platform with more success in the future will be interesting. Ditto as to whether other auteurs give the tech a shot in other story genres such as detectives, espionage, thrillers, action adventure, and even rom-com. (Note: Netflix previously released kids’ content using similar technology.)

Bottom line: Unlike many previous interactive story formats, the embedding of the technology into hundreds of millions of devices already signed up to a story delivery platform is wonderful. Though I had to work a bit to get the thing to work (it would not play via Dish Network; I had to update my Netflix iOS app on my iPad before I could view and play), overall, the results were worthwhile.  


Sometimes I just like a good flame war: The Week's Best Posts

Each week I go back over my Twitter and other posts to see what I found interesting. Follow me on Twitter (@nickdemartino) if you want the daily dose. Otherwise, just subscribe here and get the curated version.

Sometimes I just like a good flame war, those online arguments, usually among the tech elite, that carry a certain angry certitude about things that, meh, I can't really imagine getting so wound up about. Last week Robert Scoble launched one of them with his "open web" screed. You can read about the reaction here, and if you scroll down, there's a link to the original post. In addition, Dave Winer, mentioned therein, has his own flame to add: "Me and Facebook Are Over."


ON a completely different topic: I'm moderating a panel at the 2nd Screen Summit on Feb. 22 in Santa Monica called "Curated TV

The Impact of Celebrity, Expert, Influencer, and Ambassador Curation when exploring and consuming content." Please join me and 60 other speakers. 

I've also accepted speaking invitations for Transmedia Hollywood and WyrdCon, and a few others pending. I'll share details when they are firmed up. 

Storytelling and Transmedia

My post about BECKINFIELD, the fictional town in which an online sci-fi mystery series is set went live on my blog earlier this week. The interesting thing about the story-form is that all of the content is told via videos created in character by users who register on the site. Tribeca ran the piece on its Future of Film site, as well.  

I learned a bunch from this post about ebooks, transmedia, textbooks, and learning. bids a "fond farewell" to "This is Not A Game" -- the original mantra of ARG "The Beast," which set many of the templates embraced and revered by the alternative reality game community. I liked the POV and historical info in this post a lot.

Netflix launches "Lilyhammer," the Norwegian TV series starring Steven Van Zandt as a mobster on the run in Scandinavia. It's the first push (in a while) into the content realm for the online movie and TV platform. The Sopranos, it ain't.  

"Hollywood by the Numbers" take a look at the movie industry's business models by analyzing data, including the profitability of genres, the summer blockbuster syndrome, why there are no start ups in Hollywood, and the impact of TV on theatrical release patterns. Fascinating. (Thanks to Rob Tercek: @Superplex).


Verizon and Redbox are joining forces to offer a streaming video service, which of course will compete with Netflix, Apple and the others that are out there.  

Huffington Post's jump into online video continues to get a lot of attention. But, HuffPo isn't the only text-based publisher that's turning to video production and distribution, competing with the incumbent TV networks and cable channels. Everybody's doing it!

Oh, and online video viewing is up 43% in a year. 100 million Americans are watching. So are a LOT of TV execs!

The Tech Biz 

Silicon Valley's Dirty Little Secret is the fact that many, if not most "exits" for startup companies are "talent acquisitions," in which a larger company buys and often kills a company, just to lock down engineers or other talent in a very competitive labor market. 

Meanwhile, crowd-funding site Kickstarter is about to hit a new record, coming close to $1 million for a single project.

Tech superstar Pinterest has hit 10 million US monthly unique visitors in record time

Check out Zeega, a new open-source HTML5 platform for creating Interactive Documentaries.

Innovation Strategy is explored in this useful short post.

(BTW: I posted two book reviews this week: George Pelecanos' THE CUT, and Stephen King's 11/22/63. You can read all of my reviews archived here on