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Interactive shows set to drive next phase of OTT growth

Ancient Romans packing a colosseum could choose whether a defeated gladiator would live or die by showing a thumbs-up or down.

Modern-day Indians are now being given a taste of interactivity—if rather less drastic—by Netflix. Sitting in the comfort of their home, Indian viewers will be able to choose their own narrative in Bear Grylls’ next Adventure in the Wild guesting actor Ranveer Singh.

With the show set to stream on 8 July, media experts said interactive content will push over-the-top (OTT) video streaming market to its next phase of growth. Grylls is known in India for his show Man vs Wild that featured Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2019.

The way it will work on 8 July is that at several points along Ranveer’s adventure, viewers will be given two options on how the plot and character arcs move ahead, thus shaping the narrative.

Though several streaming platforms have dabbled in interactivity through online voting, social media challenges and user personalization, changing the narrative of a story requires a new level of back-end technology that few firms can boast of globally.

Media experts said only the four big broadcaster-led streaming services can manage such feat in the near future in India. The advent of faster broadband, social networking and user-generated content, however, will drive the growth of interactive programming.

“A big focus for Netflix continues to be innovation—it’s why we pioneered formats like interactive shows including Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, You vs Wild and India’s first interactive series, Ranveer vs Wild with Bear Grylls,” a Netflix spokesperson said.

“Putting interactivity at the heart of telling this series gives storytellers so much more room to explore. Audiences are in the driver’s seat with the ability to participate and choose the direction of a story.”

Globally, Netflix is known for interactive shows like Trivia Quest, Headspace: Unwind Your Mind and Battle Kitty and films like Cat Burglar, Boss Baby: Get that Baby and Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal.

Most pay-TV operators in India are driving TV interactivity today via hybrid Android TV set-top boxes offering linear TV via satellite and OTT via broadband through a single box with unified experience, said Vijay Goud, vice-president and global head, business operations and India Center, at cloud solutions company Firstlight Media.

While some examples of interactivity like voting, betting, and group views are prevalent on streaming platforms, in the coming years, platforms will look to offer services that allow a viewer to shop, plan holidays, see forecasts, book movie tickets, and view sports-on-demand—all at the press of a button.

“All these drivers are slowly making inroads into the Indian streaming space, fuelling industry-wide research to solidify interactive TV as a mainstream medium,” he said.

He said interactivity on OTT generates traffic and that there was not enough bandwidth to support the consumption surge.“The advent of faster broadband connections and faster digital media processing capabilities that can support interactive television have now created opportunities to extend and develop interactive storytelling or interactive narratives,” Goud said.

Interactive films are scarce at a global level as well, Siddharth Devnani, co-founder and director at digital agency SoCheers said.

Though few media houses are investing in it, it is expensive to produce owing to the sheer amount of additional content needed.

“Technology-wise, it requires changes in the platform at a deep level. While many DIY (do it yourself) interactive films and ad campaigns have made it to YouTube over the last decade, films and OTT shows still need further finesse to pull this off,” he said.

A seamless experience of moving from one scene to another can happen only when the tech stack supports this, which means that a significant cost to upgrade the video players is needed, he pointed out.

But interactive programming has definite potential in India and could be the next step in the ongoing OTT content revolution. Live Mint

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