Future of streaming media?

Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror breaks all the rules.


Bandersnatch is the newest Netflix craze taking over the Internet. Following the release of the interactive, choose-your-own-adventure style episode of the highly popular Black Mirror on Dec. 28, viewers have been enthralled with the new content format on the platform.

The episode, set in 1984, follows main character Colin Ritman, played by Will Poulter, and his quest to adapt a fantasy novel into a video game. What’s unique about Bandersnatch, however, is that Netflix viewers are able to control the decisions of the main character by making choices ranging from which cereal to eat for breakfast to how to best dispose of a body. As the episode goes on, Colin begins to learn that he’s being controlled by the viewer, and that he himself is being played like a character in a video game, effectively making the entire story self aware in classic Black Mirror fashion.

In all, there are more than 250 different choices the viewer can make, with five main conclusions in addition to a number of variations for each ending. Netflix reports that the average viewing time for the episode is 90 minutes, but participants are limited to making their choices in ten seconds, after which a default decision is made for them.

Bandersnatch is the first of its kind for Netflix. An interactive episode, especially one so intricate and detailed, must have been a massive undertaking for the creators of the show, as well as a massive risk for Netflix to take. Although no specific budget has been released for Bandersnatch, it was revealed that Netflix gave Black Mirror creators a 40 million dollar budget for the 12 episodes comprising seasons 3 and 4, and it’s likely that Bandersnatch cost more to make due to its complexity.

Plus, with no prior interactive-style format or outline to work off of, the creators of Black Mirror had to develop something massively complex out of nothing at all, and it seems that they succeeded in their mission.

In the past, Netflix has had a reputation for putting out as many original shows and movies as possible, making for a rather bland and overcrowded selection of content that lacked in both originality and staying power. However, the release of Bandersnatch could be a huge marker of change for the site, showing that Netflix isn’t afraid to take chances on something new and inventive.

The streaming site even went as far as to announce a raise in subscription prices on Jan. 15, with some subscriptions now costing up to three dollars more per month than they previously did. This upcarge could also be a major signal of change within the company.

Reviews of the episode have generally been positive, with many viewers voicing their interest in the characters, and obsession with getting to every ending of the story. In this sense, the episode welcomes repeat viewings, and the original style of storytelling generates interest for people looking for something new. By putting in the extra time and effort to create a new brand of content, Netflix and Black Mirror creators have mastered the art of garnering attention for their platform and their show.

However, not all reviews for the episode have been so positive. One popular complaint is that the episode is simply too complex and elaborate to be fully enjoyable. Through combining a show and a game, the episode sacrifices the element of relaxation it can provide to viewers, who may prefer to zone out or half-watch the show, instead of making a series of stressful decisions under a time crunch.

In addition to that, with Bandersnatch being the first of its kind, the episode is the target of criticism from viewers who are unimpressed with the new content style, but has nothing to be compared to in order to make improvements. Because of this, there’s really no way from the flaws to be hammered out, unless viewers support the episode and encourage Netflix to make more in the same vein.

The best thing about Bandersnatch, though, despite its slight overcomplexity and time-consuming nature, is that it’s something brand new. Not just on Netflix, but on all content streaming services, there’s an element of stagnation, a lack of change or creativity. Thanks to Bandersnatch, though, this cycle of unimaginative content may finally be getting broken. The more success the episode garners, the more sites like Netflix will get the message that viewers want something new and different to watch.

On the other hand, the lengthy story telling style may be off putting for many viewers. Although Bandersnatch is inventive, there’s no doubting that the format makes for a completely viewing different experience than a typical show or movie, and can be more tedious than most are willing to endure. Even though the episode is exciting, it’s hard to pinpoint if the new content style will take off and become fully mainstream, or remain an underground Netflix enigma that’s nothing more than a one-hit wonder.