For over a decade, we have been making the point that the internet is a communications platform, not a broadcast medium. This seemingly obvious statement of fact has long been the subject of legacy content provider objections, which is part of what has led to much of the ongoing conflicts centering around intellectual property and digital business models. With big content players feeling control over their content slipping away in the internet, they have attempted to wrestle back that control by pretending the internet is something it isn’t. For that reason, it’s always a useful thing to point out to examples that remind people that the internet simply isn’t a movie theater or television.
The latest example of that is provided by, of course, Netflix. Netflix is reportedly working on some new shows that are something of a “choose your adventure” type experience, which is something that traditional television simply isn’t capable of.
Two of the interactive projects currently in negotiations are based on existing video game properties, the report suggests. That seems to include the previously announced Minecraft: Story Mode, which was largely completed with the help of Telltale before that company’s massive layoffs last month. Netflix has frequently said it is not interested in getting directly into the video game business, however.
It’s currently unclear just how much narrative branching will be possible in these Netflix specials, or how divergent the storylines can become based on viewer interaction. Filming extra content for such branching storylines can add significantly to the production cost of traditional linear TV narratives to create content that some viewers may never end up seeing.
“Interactive” is the key word here, one which precisely shows the separation between broadcast and communications mediums. It’s a small thing, it might seem, and doesn’t really touch on the typical intellectual property concerns we discuss at Techdirt, but it also beautifully highlights how the internet and broadcast mediums are simply different. And, if you accept that difference, the obvious conclusion is that they should not be treated and/or regulated as though they were the same. That important distinction has an impact across the world of how the internet functions and is treated by government and the law.
In fact, this type of interactive narrative storytelling has more in common with the video game market, or even the tabletop gaming market, than television and film.
Live TV programs and game shows have long integrated interactive elements via telephone calls, webpages, and custom apps. But fully interactive narrative stories have been more closely associated with video games, from text-based stories like Zork to Hollywood-style blockbusters like Detroit: Become Human and everything in between. This narrative flexibility has also been included in video game experiments focused on filmed live-action stories, ranging from the campy Night Trap to this year’s innovative WarGames reboot.
So tuck this one away for the next time you hear someone harping on about how entertainment over the internet should be treated no differently than entertainment offered via broadcast. They’re not the same. And, ultimately, that’s a good thing, as that dissimilarity is what allows for cool new experiments such as what Netflix is trying to create here.
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