In last week’s Broadcast, senior executives predicted a “seminal moment”, as the production shutdown hastens the shift from linear to on-demand viewing.
“At a time of heightened battle between broadcasters and streaming video on demand platforms (SVODs), this could be the tipping point,” an ex-BBC commissioner said. “People are going to be faced with the choice of watching Homes Under The Hammer for the third time or turning to a rich on-demand catalogue.”
But a rich on-demand catalogue means more than just catch-up and repeats.
As the production of new content grinds to a halt, producers are looking for more exciting and engaging ways to sell their existing IP, including interactive reversions of their back catalogues and archives.
People in development and rights were the first to see that SVODs present a unique new opportunity: to create stories which make use of the platforms’ intrinsic interactivity. When one video ends, we’re prompted to watch another — where once we leaned back, now we lean forward.
And as a result, producers are developing ideas for shows and series which allow viewers to make choices on screen: to see multiple perspectives, dig deeper into stories, or follow carefully crafted journeys through collections of bitesized clips.
The question they’re all now asking us is, “Which broadcasters are ready for this?”
Playing catch up
Most people in the industry understand that Netflix have already stolen a march on their competitors. Their Black Mirror interactive film, Bandersnatch exploded onto the scene last year, becoming “A huge hit around the world,” according to their VP of product, and winning the Emmy for Outstanding TV Movie.
Similarly, You vs Wild captured the hearts and minds of families across the globe as they took turns deciding what Bear Grylls should do in extreme environments. As it turns out, he’s very hard to kill.
At the time of writing, Netflix have nine fully interactive specials and series on the platform, with many more in production.
Now, the rest of the field is looking to catch up — but they face a familiar blocker to innovation.
While commissioners are excited by the idea of interactive stories — particularly as traditional TV is being disrupted and abandoned — they’re not sure their own platforms have the technology to deliver them. As a result, most are not yet ready to move forward with interactive commissions.
But at the same time, their technology teams may not be aware that interactive player features are something the commissioners want.
That’s because in most large media organisations, the commissioning and technology teams are still fairly disconnected.
Netflix and change
As has often been the case in its 20 year history, Netflix avoided this impasse because of its unique structure and culture.
At Netflix, the content and product teams work hand in hand to imagine and deliver innovation, and create the processes to support it.
Bandersnatch, for example, was conceived after the product team were allowed to directly approach Black Mirror’s executives Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones to ask them if they were interested in making an interactive film.
Initially, they declined the offer — “We couldn’t see what the story would be,” Jones said. But it planted a seed in Brooker’s mind.
“This idea popped up that would only work as an interactive,” he said. “It was a moment where we went, ‘Oh great, that’s exciting, it’s a story that would only work in this way.’
It’s hard to imagine the product or technology team at another large broadcaster being given this kind of direct access to top indie creatives.
And while a complete overhaul of organisational culture is obviously not likely or feasible for Netflix’s more traditional competitors, there are now easier ways to realise the potential of this emerging genre.
Connecting content and tech teams
The first step is to make both commissioning and technology teams aware that the tech behind interactive films is much simpler than they assume.
And now, with the advent of our creative production tool Stornaway (launching on May 1st) the production and testing of the films themselves has become much easier.
Executives and commissioners can more accurately pre-visualise interactive projects throughout production, and estimate schedules and budgets. Content teams can communicate clearly with the technology and product teams about exactly what they’re delivering.
As an industry, too, we can work towards open standards for creating and sharing these projects, so they’re not locked into any proprietary technology.
Unlike the stories themselves, the solution isn’t complex. New tools like Stornaway help content and product teams to create, communicate and collaborate on interactive production. It’s now up to the commissioning and technology teams to reach out and work together to seize the moment and unlock this new wave of content for the 2020s.
Get in touch with us to arrange a Stornaway demo.