Netflix Is Embarking On An Innovative New Kind Of Storytelling

Have you ever wished that you could alter the course of events in a Netflix show? Tweak that final scene in Gilmore Girls or reimagine a classic moment in Orange Is The New Black. Now, the streaming company is unleashing that power. Today, Netflix unveiled a brand new type of original show that uses a "choose your own adventure" format to put you, the viewer, in complete control of what happens next.

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

Netflix is launching the format with two kids shows: Puss In Book: Trapped In An Epic Tale (premiering today) and Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile (premiering July 14). As the shows move forward, viewers will be presented with various decisions. They'll use the remote or touch the screen (depending on how they're streaming the show) to select what happens next.

Talk of the new format started this past March when the Today Show reported the company was working on the interactive technology. Netflix had already experimented with the format before, by embedding brief interactive moments in its kid's series Kong. But today's formal launch marks the first time the company has embarked on viewer engagement of this scale.

Netflix's development of this new kind of storytelling has been two-and-a-half years in the making. "This came about when we were stating to think about how we're in an interactive-device ecosystem," Carla Fisher, the director of product innovation at Netflix told Refinery29. "Netflix isn't beholden to linear TV, and we don't have to fill a half hour or an hour. It's okay for for there to be a variety of times."

That thinking, combined with creators who are looking to tell different types of nonlinear stories or stories that play with the traditional, straightforward timeline, led to initial talks with production partners including DreamWorks Animation Television, American Greetings Entertainment, and Stoopid Buddy Studios. From there, the idea of giving users the decision-making power was born.

From a technological standpoint, "choose your own" adventure shows are no easy feat. Not only did Netflix need to create and film all of the scenarios that are possible with each decision, it also needed to think about things like how a user will rewind or fast forward a show. Instead of the traditional navigation, you'll see the show's timeline broken up by decision-making scenarios. So, if a viewer wants to see what will happen if they make a different pick, they can go back to that decision and choose the alternate option.

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.

In Puss in Book, there are 13 choices, two different endings, and a total of 3,000 different ways you could watch the show. The shortest path is about 18 minutes while the longest is 39 minutes.

Fisher says Netflix also had to change its adaptive streaming engine to buffer two places instead of one, since it doesn't know which path a viewer will take. "One of the things that's been awesome about this is that it's a great mashup of Silicon Valley technology and Hollywood entertainment coming together to do things that nobody has seen before," Fisher said

While the format is kicking off with kid's shows, there's the potential for it to come to any originals. "Ultimately, having this tool is about creators and storytellers, and we want to tell great stories," Fisher told Refinery29.

Imagine having control over the course of events in House of Cards or Stranger Things. That could lead to some crazy binge-watching sessions, and maybe a second life for Barb.