Over the past year, tech companies have infringed on one particular space traditionally owned by the entertainment industry: Original programming. Facebook Watch, Snapchat Shows, and YouTube Originals are the latest platforms to pop up in the crowded space. As the lines between tech and entertainment become increasingly blurry, it only makes sense that traditional networks will start rolling out tech savvy approaches of their own.
That's what HBO is doing with Mosaic, a new show that was announced last month and set to air in January 2018. You can watch the show now, for free, except what you watch now won't be exactly what you see come January. Here's the twist: For now, you, not Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, are the director. You get to decide what path the show will take.
This turn of events is made possible by the Mosaic app, released today on iOS and tvOS (Android is coming soon), which HBO created in conjunction with media technology company PodOp. When you download the app and create an account, you're taken to a flow chart-like screen. Each box in the chart is a chapter, or video clip. At the end of watching the first 25-minute chapter, which introduces you to the children's book author Olivia Lake (Sharon Stone's character), you unlock two new chapters to choose between.
This continues as you get further along in the show: After each chapter, you'll pick which character's perspective you want to view the story from, changing the course of events. You'll also have a chance to be a detective of sorts in the interactive experience. Beyond choosing the character perspectives, you'll unlock "discoveries" while watching, which can include things like voicemails, emails, and news clippings.
You'll also be able to switch perspectives. There are 15 possible chapters and two possible endings. Although you can watch your version of the storyline now, you won't get to see how Soderbergh assembled the pieces until the show launches as a six-part limited series on HBO on January 22. The app's iTunes listing teases, "Mosaic isn’t complete until all the pieces are viewed in their proper perspective."
According to HBO's Medium post announcing the app's release, presenting the show this way took three years, required the filing of 14 new patents, and called for increased filming time to accommodate shooting from multiple perspectives. Mosaic is similar to Netflix's choose your own adventure-style kids shows, which launched in June. However, HBO's app approach makes Mosaic feel like a more advanced and fully immersive experience. And if you have an iPhone X, that super retina screen will come in handy here.