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June 20, 2017

Kids control the story in Netflix’s new interactive shows

by John_A

After months of rumors and speculation, Netflix is officially taking the wraps off of its new interactive shows for kids. The company is calling its new type of programming “branching narratives,” since viewers can control certain aspects of the story, including the ending. The first series, Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale, was created in partnership with DreamWorks Animation and features 13 different storyline choices and two endings. It will debut today on the streaming service, followed by another interactive show, Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile, on July 14th. But that’s not it: Netflix says a third one called Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout is already in the works and scheduled to arrive later in 2017.

“Being an internet-based company enables us to innovate new formats, deliver at scale to millions of members all over the world on multiple device types and, most importantly, learn from it,” Carla Engelbrecht Fisher, Netflix’s director of product innovation, said in a blog post. “The children’s programming space was a natural place for us to start since kids are eager to ‘play’ with their favorite characters and already inclined to tap, touch and swipe at screens.” It’s worth nothing Netflix had been quietly testing this out, but it wasn’t until now that it decided to roll it out to its users worldwide.

At launch, Netflix says the choose-your-own-adventure shows will work on “most” TV experiences and the latest iOS devices, though not its own site. The Apple TV isn’t compatible either, nor are Android smartphone or tablets, but support for these platforms could come down the road. Either way, it’ll be interesting to use a remote or screen to help your kids determine how they want the story of Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale to play out.

If you’ve ever played video games like Life is Strange or Telltale’s The Walking Dead, where you can control parts of the storyline, Netflix’s branching narratives won’t feel so unusual. And while it looks like the streaming service is only bringing this to kids programming for now, don’t be surprised if the idea expands to other genres in the future. “It’s really about finding the right stories — and storytellers — that can tell these complex narratives and bring them to life in a compelling way,” says Engelbrecht Fisher.

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