Few days back the official Twitter handle of Netflix created quite a flutter by sharing that nearly 45 million accounts have watched the latest original “Bird Box”. What seemed like a subtle chest thumping, turned into a squabble among naysayers who discussed the relevance of such a data where the completion percentage is still not shared. The reviews for the movie were generally unfavourable, which made people believe that the marketing of the movie may have garnered initial eyeballs but the weak script could not keep them hooked. Just a few days later came the latest feature length stand- alone ‘Bandersnatch’ from the Charlie Brooker stable. The response to which was almost diametrically opposite to what Bird Box received. Users were sharing their stories of watching the episode multiple times just to help the protagonist, Stefan, end up happy.
Bandersnatch was a study in human character and even in one case, brand preference. We try to discuss a few observations after spending nearly 3 hours watching the episode and trying out all permutations for the ill fated Stefan.
A life of Guilt :
Guilt pervaded the story of Stefan and the eventuality was written well before we realised that he is doomed. Bandersnatch was not only about the choices which the users made in ‘running’ the story of Stefan, but also the choices Stefan made which may or may not have resulted in his mother’s demise. Whatever storyline we embarked on, the demise of his mother looms like a dark cloud and this has impacted Stefan all his life.
The only poetic justice of sorts is arrived when we choose the path of Stefan using the keyword ‘TOY’ to reach his white Rabbit. His father, having seen the lengths to which the kid goes to have the toy, keeps it back under the bed and as fate would have it, both the mother and son embark on the catastrophic journey onboard the 8:45 train. Immediately thereafter, we see the grown-up Stefan lifeless in Dr Haynes’ office. Thus, the tragedy reaches a kind of closure as both Mother and Son are together as they approach their fate.
Visceral Decision-making :
Throughout the run time, we are given choices which are shown to affect Stefan and his life. Most of them start as apparently inconsequential, but they lay bare the mindset of the users. Specially when they are making far reaching decisions like killing ‘Stefan’ or ‘ Collin’. These are user insights which should help a data driven site like Netflix to segment users basis their choices. Bandersnatch can be the starting point of such voluntary decision making and user analysis which may go a long way to curate content by mapping expectations. The repeated viewing of the story to try and arrive at a certain endpoint may also help Netflix understand the reaction of the particular user to suggestions from Netflix. It is to be remembered here that the initial appeal of the content giant lied in their curated content segment attracting loyalists.
Brand integration and surveys? :
The first choice which is put in front of us is to select between two types of cereal, one by Quaker and another by Kellogg’s. As much as we can safely assume that it was not a brand choice survey, but who knows! Smart platforms like Netflix survive on understanding their users. A bit of brand integrations, surveys, however subtle, may be the next step towards monetization.
What can also be done is programmatic ad-placements which will depend entirely on the kind of user behaviour. If I am a 30 year old male, I may get a totally different set of choices, as compared to someone who is younger.
Bandersnatch was a revolutionary attempt at engagement from one of the pioneers of content creation. We can only imagine the future of interactive series which will keep us hooked for even lengthier period of time. Black Mirror season 5 returns this year. Don’t destroy your laptops till then!