What Can 'Black Mirror: Bandersnatch' Tell Us About the Media Landscape?

It’s not even been a month since the release of Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch, but most people have now watched and re-watched (or replayed?) it in an attempt to try and find the multiple different endings and explore the full map of the film. It has even been subject to scandal, with reports claiming that Netflix is facing a lawsuit by a “Choose Your Own Adventure” publisher for approximately $25 million.

As the hype around ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ finally settles, we’re asking what we can learn from it and what implications the film has for the media landscape.

Note: I have kept this blog post spoiler-free so you can read on without worry!


Netflix & Big Data

Like other digital giants Google and Facebook, Netflix has always stored and analysed user data in order to improve the platform. This infographic demonstrates how Netflix uses big data to their advantage to find their next hit shows and personalise the streaming experience.

Bandersnatch isn’t Netflix’s first experiment in the interactive genre, but it is the first to cause a buzz. The widespread success of the film could well shape the future of streaming platforms, with interactivity becoming a more popular option.

One consequence of the “choice” function is that Netflix has instant access to user decision-making patterns. While some of the choices in Bandersnatch are banal, and others simply too extreme to mirror real life, big data could still help Netflix to better understand its customers, and further tailor individual accounts to match user personalities.

Some have suggested that Bandersnatch is the perfect marketing tool for Netflix as this in-depth data collection of decision-making patterns can help to further tailor user experience and perhaps even incorporate targeted advertising. Others have reflected on how Netflix haven’t really done anything new here and Bandersnatch is simply a microcosm of the current media landscape, one where a platform like YouTube is a minefield of choice and each experience is unique and based on a wealth of data.

What is certain is that Netflix have found a new way to collect and use data, and we have freely volunteered that information to them. In the future, tailored experiences may become even more personalised and targeted ads could be integrated into Netflix shows. Whether you agree with this data use or not, the data from Bandersnatch and other interactive titles can now be a resource for them.


Social Engagement is Part of the Process

At risk of sounding like a broken record, social media is now a part of everything we do – from eating, to holidays, and, of course, our viewing habits.

With Bandersnatch, social engagement became a kind of frenzy – alongside memes being shared relating to people struggling to make decisions, there were those more committed users reporting on all the endings they had found. People took to Twitter and other social platforms to map out the endings collectively, therefore making Bandersnatch an interactive experience in more than one way.


A Paradox: The Importance and Illusion of Choice

Individual choice and, by extension, privacy has become far more important to us recently.  Following GDPR and the Cambridge Analytica scandal, people believe they should have the authority to opt in and out and take back control over their data.

Choice is also the key attraction of Bandersnatch – creating your own story through individual autonomy seems an exciting (if mildly stressful) prospect for Netflix users. However, as viewers soon realised, the ability to control the outcomes of Bandersnatch is limited. Whichever options you try, there is no happy ending.

Black Mirror is well-known for its commentary on the dangers of the digital world, both futuristic and current. I don’t think it’s too much of a reach to suggest that Brooker and Jones are showing that choice and autonomy are something of an illusion in an age where it’s hard to keep track of our extensive data footprint. Google, Facebook and Netflix know everything about us and can have substantial influence over our daily decision-making processes – from the clothes we buy to the food we eat.

Ironically, one thing that viewers may be choosing by watching Bandersnatch is their future experience on Netflix.


Digital Boundaries are Collapsing

As media innovation continues, the boundaries separating digital platforms become less clear. An example of this is the evolution of social media apps over the past ten years – Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat once had very distinct functions, and now they all try and do the same sort of things.

Netflix seems to be aiming for the same great heights of achieving everything it can with its platform. Facing competition by Amazon Prime, Hulu and YouTube TV, it can now move forward by taking key aspects of gaming and bringing them into the film experience. As with social media sites using the features of others, big platforms will keep adding features until they can offer everything rather than one specific service.

It seems that the major digital giants can and will do anything possible to get to the new trends first. Will they continue to have a monopoly? What does this mean for any new kids on the block? It’s hard to say, but it does seem that they have the resources and status to push through any new developments quickly and successfully. Small companies will need to think even more creatively and innovatively when facing the digital leaders.


Final Thoughts

It’s hard to predict exactly where interactive viewing will take Netflix but ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ has created a new database of information, further increased social engagement, made us think about how much choice we really have, and made the distinction between media platforms less clear.




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