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

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.”


Second French academic detained in Iran since June

Updated 16 October 2019

Second French academic detained in Iran since June

PARIS: A prominent French academic has been in detention in Iran since June, when he was arrested with his Franco-Iranian colleague, a researchers’ group and the French foreign ministry said Wednesday.
Roland Marchal, a sociologist whose research focuses on civil wars in Africa, and Fariba Adelkhah, an anthropologist, both work at the Sciences Po university in Paris.
The FASOPO association, of which they are both members, announced Marchal’s detention on its website, saying it had remained quiet about his arrest at the request of French authorities until the story was reported on Tuesday by Le Figaro newspaper.
The association said “discretion had seemed preferable to the French authorities, who immediately began working, at the highest level, to obtain the liberation of our colleagues...”
The French government, it said, had wished to prevent the issue becoming a reason for “nationalist flare-up” in Tehran.
The foreign ministry in a statement confirmed Marchal’s detention and said it strongly condemned his arrest.
“We are mobilized to obtain his release,” it said, adding Marchal had received several consular visits.
“We urge the Iranian authorities to be transparent and act without delay to put an end to this unacceptable situation,” the ministry added.
FASOPO said it had alerted French authorities to the pair’s disappearance on June 25.
The association said it supported the government’s decision to keep quiet given the experience of foreign colleagues “who found themselves in the same situation” and who had found Western media reporting “either useless or, worse, counter-productive.”
Adelkhah’s arrest was confirmed by Tehran on July 16. The reason for her detention has not been made public.
Paris has repeatedly requested that she be given consular access and set free. Iranian authorities, who do not recognize dual nationality, had railed against the “unacceptable interference” of France in the matter.
FASOPO said Marchal was arrested after arriving in Iran from Dubai to celebrate the Muslim Eid feast with Adelkhah.
It said he was known “for his strong stances that reflect his uncompromising quest for intellectual honesty and humanistic values.”
Iranian-born Adelkhah is a specialist on Shia Islam who has written extensively on Iran and Afghanistan.
The arrests came as President Emmanuel Macron conducts intense diplomacy to find a way of keeping alive the 2015 nuclear deal which limits Iran’s atomic program.
Iran has several dual nationals and Western passport holders in detention.
They include British-Iranian Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, who has been jailed in Tehran since 2016 on sedition charges, causing major tensions with Britain.