Open that door? Netflix explores choose-your-own horror, romance

The world’s largest streaming service wants to try out more interactive entertainment following the response to science-fiction movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. (AFP)
Updated 20 March 2019
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Open that door? Netflix explores choose-your-own horror, romance

  • The world’s largest streaming service wants to try out more interactive entertainment following the response to science-fiction movie Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
  • In Bandersnatch, the first decision viewers could make was whether a character would eat Sugar Puffs or Frosties for breakfast

LOS ANGELES: A Netflix experiment that began with viewers picking a movie character’s breakfast cereal may expand to letting the audience choose the best on-screen date or the safest path to escape an ax murderer.
The world’s largest streaming service wants to try out more interactive entertainment following the response to science-fiction movie “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” executives told reporters this week.
The company is looking for possibilities across genres such as comedy, horror and romance, said Todd Yellin, Netflix’s vice president of product.
“Why can’t you have a romantic title where you get to choose who she goes out with?” Yellin said. “Or horror titles. Should you walk through that door, or should you dive out that window and get the heck out of there? You can make the choice.”
In “Bandersnatch,” the first decision viewers could make was whether a character would eat Sugar Puffs or Frosties for breakfast.
The idea was to give audiences a simple choice to encourage them to test the technology, which involved clicking via a remote or tapping on the screen to select an option. The movie kept playing even if the viewer did not choose.
The cereal scene became an Internet sensation when “Bandersnatch” was released last December.
“Like many of you, I got addicted to ‘Bandersnatch’ and trying to figure out what’s the significance of the cereal, and not the cereal, all the different options,” Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings said.
The film provided feedback about how long people want to engage with interactive programming and how many choices they want to make, Hastings said. After the cereal decision, viewers selected things such as the type of music a character would play or whether they would jump off a building.
When viewers can direct a story, they feel “really with the character,” Yellin said. “You are more viscerally feeling what they are feeling. You just made the choice for them.”
That is why Yellin wants to try the format in other stories where characters face immense consequences. “Horror is life and death situations constantly,” he said. And in romances, “the emotional stakes are high.”
Yellin said the effort is in its early stages, and Hastings suggested he does not see interactive entertainment replacing traditional storytelling.
“I don’t know if I would do it every day,” Hastings said, “but as part of my viewing, it’s pretty exciting.”
Netflix already has produced a handful of interactive shows for kids, who were immediately receptive to the idea, Yellin said.
“Kids don’t have established rules,” he said. “They assume that’s the way the world should be and they’ll try it.”


Arab News’ 44th anniversary: The year’s top headlines

Updated 20 April 2019
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Arab News’ 44th anniversary: The year’s top headlines

  • Arab News celebrates its 44th anniversary on Saturday
  • Throughout this year, Arab News has seen a significant increase in readership in the Kingdom and around the world

JEDDAH: Arab News celebrates its 44th anniversary on Saturday as the biggest English-language daily in the Kingdom with a fast-rising readership and a commitment to maintaining the quality journalism that has been a bedrock of the paper during its long history.
Throughout this year, Arab News has seen a significant increase in readership in the Kingdom and around the world, with new digital and print offerings, including the launch of the Pakistan edition, spearheading the newspaper’s global and digital expansion.

A series of online and print elements — including Road to 2030, The Face, The Space, The Case and The Startup — draws attention globally and nationally.

The collection of top headlines from the past year highlights a significant period in the newspaper's history.

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HEADLINE NUMBERS

- 2.4m — Pilgrims performed Hajj in 2018

- $50bn+ — Value of deals signed at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh

- $1.5bn — Annual revenue expected to be generated by KSA’s cinema industry by 2030

- 83 — Number of events held in different cities during Sharqiah Season

- 35% — Ratio of women working across Arab News’ global operations at the end of 2018

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From the exclusive interview of Egypt’s Pope Tawadros II to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s role at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh to the Winter at Tantora festival in Al-Ula, the past year has brought a string of major stories that have cemented the newspaper’s reputation for first-class journalism.

A look back at the Arab News coverage that made headlines this year.

Women driving
June 24, 2018: The General Directorate of Traffic issued driver’s licenses to 10 women after a royal decree issued by King Salman in September 2017 announced the end of a decades-long ban on women driving. An iconic image of a Saudi woman driving by New Yorker magazine illustrator Malika Favre, commissioned by Arab News for the cover of its souvenir edition on June 24, was shared around the world. The design won two Awards of Excellence at this year’s Society for News Design honors. The cover image was also recognized in the international design awards run by HOW magazine. The end of the driving ban is a historic move that sends a clear message to the world that changes in Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030 are real and significant.

Hajj coverage
August 19, 2018: As part of Arab News CSR initiatives, we gave out tens of thousands of umbrellas to protect pilgrims from the sun during Hajj season. An Arab News team also covered all the major days of Hajj, including Mina, Arafat and Mudalifah. A total of 2,371,675 pilgrims performed Hajj in 2018, according to the General Authority for Statistics. The pilgrims who came from outside Saudi Arabia numbered 1,758,722, while 612,953 came from inside the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia invited more than 800 foreign media representatives to cover Hajj events.

Future Investment Initiative
Oct. 23, 2018: At least 25 deals worth more than $50 billion in the energy and transportation sectors were signed at the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh. The three-day event was attended by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Pakistani PM Imran Khan, as well as other leaders from the GCC and worldwide.

Pope Tawadros II
Dec. 4, 2018: In an exclusive interview with Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal J. Abbas, Tawadros II, the 118th Pope of Alexandria, Patriarch of the See of St. Mark and leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, described events in Syria and Iraq, with the rise of Daesh, as “very painful,” and pointed out that Christians who had to seek asylum abroad were among the most affected. However, his concerns extended beyond the plight of Christians alone, and he argued that a “weakening of Arab countries” means “the weakening of Arabs as a whole … Christians and Muslims alike.”

Formula E
Dec. 13, 2018: The mega Formula E event — held in the historic Saudi town of Ad Diriyah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site — revolutionized motorsports by using only electric race cars. Officially known as the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, the event was the first held in Saudi Arabia and the region, reflecting the Kingdom’s goal of hosting major events, and promoting them domestically and globally. The three-day event also hosted some of the world’s top entertainers, including Jason Derulo, Enrique Iglesias, Amr Diab and One Republic. Thousands of fans attended the motorsports tournament, concerts, entertainment and cultural activities.

Winter at Tantora
Dec. 20, 2018: The northern Saudi city of Al-Ula hosted a special season of events and festivities, as the Royal Commission for the Governorate of Al-Ula organized Winter at Tantora. The cultural festival was designed to showcase the wonders of Al-Ula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the world. It included cultural events, a spectacular equine experience, and musical performances by some of the world’s greatest artists, such as Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo, Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli, Iraqi musicians Ilham Al-Madfai and Kazem Al-Saher, Bahrain’s Rashed Al-Majid and Iraqi artist Majed Al-Mohandes.

Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi
Feb. 3, 2019: It was a historic day in Abu Dhabi when Pope Francis became the first pontiff to visit a Gulf country. He was received by Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. The papal visit included a tour of Sheikh Zayed Mosque, and an interfaith meeting with Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb. Later, Pope Francis said he returned home from a country that had risen from the desert in the hope that others could be equally successful. Tens of thousands of Christian and Muslims leaders gathered to hear a 25-minute homily delivered by the pope.

MBS Asia tour
Feb. 17, 2019: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s tour of Pakistan, India and China made headlines around the globe. Saudi authorities praised the outcome of the Pakistan leg of the trip, with deals worth $20 billion signed by the two nations. During his visit to India, Crown Prince Mohammed said that he expects Saudi Arabia’s investments in the country to be worth $100 billion in the next two years. The crown prince also witnessed the signing of agreements in investment, tourism, housing and information and broadcasting. In China, he met with Vice Premier Han Zheng and attended the China-Saudi cooperation forum. That was followed by a ceremony to sign agreements on petroleum, chemicals, investment, renewable energy and anti-terrorism.

50:50 by 2020
March 7, 2019: The Arab News newsroom philosophy is based on gender equality. The proportion of women working for the newspaper rose to more than a third in 2018, moving closer to the goal of a 50:50 gender-balanced newsroom by 2020, according to the Arab News “gender equality meter,” published in March. Arab News last year outlined its aim to become the first newspaper in Saudi Arabia to have a gender-balanced newsroom. The announcement was made at the opening of the inaugural Arab Women Forum at King Abdullah Economic City. The drive, referred to internally as the “50:50 by 2020” initiative, covers all the newspaper’s bureaus and areas of operation.

Sharqiah Season
March 14, 2019: The Sharqiah Season, a 17-day festival in Eastern Province cities, delivered extensive entertainment for both Saudis and visitors to the Kingdom. Key events included the Red Bull Air Race and the Formula 1 H20 boat event, as well as concerts by Akon, Deadmau5, Pitbull and French Montana.

First anniversary of cinemas
April 18, 2019: Arab News marked the first anniversary of cinemas opening in Saudi Arabia. As part of the country’s Vision 2030 program of reforms, Saudi Arabia lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas, paving the way for theater chains to unveil ambitious plans to open hundreds of cinemas across the nation in the next decade. The Saudi government announced that SR131 billion ($35 billion) will be invested in cinema and theater construction, mainly in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. The Kingdom’s cinema industry — which will serve a population of more than 32 million, most of whom are under the age of 30 — is expected to generate $1.5 billion in annual revenue by 2030.