Why Aren’t There More Interactive TV Shows?

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02 Aug 22

Why Aren’t There More Interactive TV Shows?

‘Choose your own adventure’ books began way back in the early 1980s and captured the imaginations of thousands of children thanks to their ability to immerse a reader in a storyline like linear storylines in traditional media never could. In theory, they almost strike you as the natural progression for literature, a sort of paradigm shift into increasing the personalisation of a story. Rather than the same story being interpreted many different ways by people, the story itself is actually somewhat driven by their choices. We can see a few, burgeoning, versions of the CYOA media in kids’ shows like Dora The Explorer or video games like ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Detriot: Become Human.’ However, only a few adult TV adaptions have been created in recent years.

Perhaps the best known among them was Black Mirror’s spin-off feature-length film ‘Bandersnatch’.

It featured a timer to somewhat force viewers to make snap decisions, and produce a more real-time flow to the show, no matter what option you took. The execution of Bandersnatch was pretty ambitious and, simply put, was an absolute hit with many – just look at The Guardian’s glowing review.

It led to a range of releases including To Steal Or Not To Steal, and You Vs. Wild, both Netflix productions that haven’t set the world on fire, but earned their places in the title list. But why then, despite the popularity these interactive shows seem to garner, aren’t there more of them? And could they someday be the future of TV shows and films?

A Gear Gap

Firstly, interactive media is not universally accessible. Hulu’s interactive show ‘Door No.1’ demands an audience that possesses virtual reality equipment. One of the big reasons interactive media hasn’t taken off is that its audience isn’t particularly varied or large to start with. The technologically capable and more curious person is drawn to it. Others, however, just want an easy life with a TV, a remote and zero commitment to engage with the show in order to make it ‘entertain’ them.

Is this the gap interactive shows miss? After all, you can tell a lot about people, including their age, beliefs, financial stability and background by the technology they use. For example, someone who grew up using USB sticks, speaking over MSN messenger and listening to music on an iPod is highly likely to belong to the age category of ‘Generation Z’. This is to say that a person’s stereotypical use of technology can say so much about their generation.

Some brands have explored this notion further. A prime example: ExpressVPN created their own quiz to guess a respondent’s age based on questions about their technology usage. While it’s designed to be a fun exercise, it actually reveals quite a lot about why the familiarity gap that holds VR’s commercial potential back exists at all. VR has also always suffered from being neither affordable for the mostly young audience who understand it and unfortunately unfathomable to the audiences who can afford to purchase the equipment in the first place. This demographic is typically those who are older and grew up around more static, linear media formats.

The Verge’s buying guide conceded that a $75 minimum would get you the cheapest headset worth purchasing. Netflix kept their interactive media a little more basic, you only need a remote for example, but it’s still a jarring genre for the unassuming, and therefore more likely to be ignored.