Interactive storytelling is nothing new, but with the launch of Bandersnatch on Netflix, it seems the world has a renewed interest in content they can shape and direct. This form of interactive content – where the viewer can select a character’s key decisions, changing the story that they see as a result – relies on complex narrative branches and user journey mapping. But while the viewer makes seemingly simple choices to guide the narrative, something far more interesting is happening in the background.
Through interactive storytelling, Netflix has gained access to data like never before. Data that reveals the choices we make and the storylines we want to see. Which raises the question, can AI use this data to create content in the future?
So what is AI’s role in interactive storytelling?
For many years, Netflix has analysed viewer’s watch time, view-through rates and searches to help influence the content it develops, leading to global successes like House of Cards. As the New York Times claimed, ‘Netflix is commissioning original content because it knows what people want before they do’.
It also goes as far as to personalise the Netflix experience for each viewer, constantly testing different images, thumbnails and copy variations to increase a show’s relevance with hundreds of audience segmentations. The use of AI and big data has made all this possible, but can it go beyond user experience, and begin developing content itself?
In short, not quite. While attempts have been made where AI has directed adverts, and even ‘directed’ a movie, these currently remain a novel way to use new technology, rather than the norm.
But whilst AI might not be writing what we see, it’s most certainly dictating what makes it onto our screens. It’s not just Netflix who use data and AI to dictate what shows are in their pipeline, Sciptbook is also being used to analyse scripts and predetermine their success, replacing human judgement and intuition with hard facts. Even our adverts will change through AI – Channel 4 will use AI for contextual ads (if a TV show character talks about their smartphone, Apple may want to have its new iPhone ad running during the following break) and AI can even be used to change the actors we see on our screens, to be better suited to our preferences.
All of this creates endless possibilities, but also lessons to learn. In an era of big data and AI, how can we ensure creativity still shines through? And if content is created based on the behaviours of the masses, how can we protect fringe content, and ensure minority groups and interests are represented in broadcast content?
For now, though, someone still needs to write the story, and at the moment that role is fulfilled by a human writer. Perhaps AI will evolve the creativity, empathy and imagination needed to create a story that enthrals humans, but it’s not there yet (although an AI has written a book, it doesn’t sound all that readable).
Why storytelling is essential for a brand’s creative content on social media
For many brands, the prospect of using AI technology to deliver content remains far off. But they can still learn something from interactive experiments like Bandersnatch.
Think about the benefits of using creative storytelling that provides a unique experience for everyone who engages with it.
- It creates a more compelling and personalised experience than traditional storytelling, not only by providing countless unique stories, but by giving the viewer agency over the story. Brands could benefit from using this technique in customer communications, providing a truly personalised experience.
- It provokes an emotional response. Bandersnatch stoked up a lot of emotions in viewers (mainly stress and anxiety over how their choices impacted the character). Researchers from New York University found that emotional experiences can forge stronger memories. Brands that use their creative content to generate an emotional response could create stronger bonds with their audiences.
- It’s shareable. Because almost every viewer’s experience is unique those who participated in Bandersnatch took to social media to compare their choices to others and discuss the outcomes, as well as how it made them feel. Brands that want to create a similar experience may not have the same viral outcome as Black Mirror, but people are much more likely to share content that’s taken them on an emotional journey.
Artificial intelligence may not be ready to create compelling content itself, but it can be used to inform content and deliver complex storytelling written by human writers.
Brands that start by developing personalised, emotive and engaging content for fans will go a long way in mimicking the experience that AI can deliver at large-scale.