YouTube creating Bandersnatch-style TV shows to take on Netflix – but it could be a sinister ploy to ‘steal your thoughts’

YOUTUBE is working on choose-your-own-adventure TV shows, according to a new report.

It’s seemingly a response to the success of Bandersnatch, an interact TV episode released by Netflix late last year.

Bandersnatch follows a young computer programmer adapting a Choose Your Own Adventure novel into a video game

Google, which owns YouTube, has set up a brand new division dedicated to “interactive programming”.

News about the upcoming launch was broken by Bloomberg, and later confirmed by YouTube in a statement.

“We now have amazing new tools and opportunities to create and tell multilayered and interactive stories,” said Susanne Daniels, YouTube’s head of original programming.

“Ben [Relles, who manages the team] has an intuitive and experienced understanding of how the platform can enhance content, making him the perfect choice to develop this exciting new division.”

Viewers can direct the storyline by making plot choices using their TV remote

YouTube already offers some interactive advertisements, but has never experimented with interactive narrative TV.

It’s not clear what sort of stories will be told, but YouTube could follow a sci-fi theme like Netflix rival Bandersnatch.

The new team will sit inside the YouTube Originals Division, and will also work on live specials designed to investigate how viewers interact and participate with content.

The main effort will be developing shows driven by interactivity.

What is Bandersnatch?

Here's what you need to know…

  • Bandersnatch is an interactive film / TV episode released by Netflix on December 28, 2018
  • It’s part of the Black Mirror TV series created by Brit writer Charlie Brooker, which features standalone episodes that portray dystopian futures
  • Bandersnatch follows a young programmer named Stefan who is adapting a Choose Your Own Adventure book into a video game in 1984
  • During the episode, viewers get a chance to direct the plot by selecting options that appear on screen
  • This results in viewers seeing different storylines and endings, depending on the choices they make
  • The average viewing is 90 minutes, although it’s possible to watch the episode at a length of between 40 minutes and 2.5 hours
  • There are five “main” endings, although endings have small variants too
  • The episode received largely positive reviews, although some criticised the storyline

Earlier this year, The Sun revealed how Bandersnatch could be a sinister Netflix ploy to steal your thoughts.

Experts warned that the show gave Netflix a wealth of data on the personal choices you make.

Netflix hasn’t revealed exactly what it’ll do with this data, but the company does offer up data to marketers and advertisers – and government organisations, when asked.

“Netflix is bound by privacy laws especially when dealing with European subjects,” Adam Brown, a cybersecurity expert at Synopsys, told The Sun.

“Those same laws do have exceptions, for example law enforcement agencies can of course legally access the data.”

For instance, imagine if you were charged with committing a violent crime.

The police could request Netflix data showing what decisions you made when watching TV shows.

For instance, Bandersnatch gives you the option to kill certain characters in very brutal, gory ways.

The TV show features some violent scenes, depending on the choices you make
Experts say there’s a risk that data on the choices you make in interactive TV shows and movies could be abused

Data suggesting you chose violent actions during a viewing session could potentially count against you.

“Choices could reveal aspects of a viewer’s psyche to law enforcement agencies,” Brown explained.

But he added that your personality could be revealed by regular TV choices too – outside of Choose Your Own Adventure stories.

When combined with other data, this could mean bad things for your privacy, as one expert explains.

“Your smart TV, games console and AI assistant might know what you’re watching, hear all the comments you’re making, and even know which part of the screen you were looking at when you said that or made that expression,” said Dr Ian Pearson, a professional futurist, speaking to The Sun.

“Your fitness band meanwhile is measuring your excitement level via your heart rate.

“So the data will go much deeper and more personal than just choosing a storyline.”

This data could then be accessed by governments or big-money advertisers.

Dr Pearson explained: “While much of the data gathered about you is low value, just form filling and clicking, that might not give true indications about you, your intimate behaviours and choices when watching a programme alone could reveal much more accurate and detailed data about you.

“All of that could be available to any company willing to pay or any government official with the right to access it.”

Netflix and Google could learn about your personality by tailoring questions in future Choose Your Own Adventure shows

Not everyone is convinced that Bandersnatch can provide such detailed data, however.

Michael Pachter, a media expert at Wedbush Securities, told The Sun: “It’s not clear that Bandersnatch was effective in driving much consumer interest beyond the novelty of the experience.

He called the episode an “abject failure” and said: “I don’t think that Netflix has the skills set (yet) to make a compelling interactive experience.

“They need video game developers to make the “game” if they want it to be fun, and they’re letting movie makers dabble with a medium that they aren’t particularly good at.”

Pachter thinks that Netflix will create more Bandersnatch-style shows and will “endeavour to derive information”, but said it “won’t be effective or productive”.

“Keep in mind that they know very little about users beyond what they watch,” said Pachter.

“They don’t know age, gender, purchase habits, household income, or pretty much anything else about their customer. They may know that I like Stranger Things, but so do 13 year-old girls.

“Marketing feminine hygiene products to me based upon my choices in Bandersnatch would not be a particularly effective strategy.”

At the time, a Netflix spokesperson told The Sun: “The privacy of Netflix members is a priority for us.

“Documenting choices improves the experience and interactive functionality of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

“All interactions with the film and uses of that information are in compliance with our privacy statement.”
“Netflix does not sell or rent personal information to third parties for their marketing purposes or any other use.”

Use this Netflix trick to make sure you see fewer rubbish films.

You should also read our guide to the secret Netflix controls you never knew existed.

If you waste hours trying to find something to watch, you’ll definitely want to try Netflix Roulette.

And find out how to get new Netflix features first.

Do you like Choose Your Own Adventure programmes? Let us know in the comments!

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