By their nature, films are passive entertainment. Usually, audiences are not making choices for the characters and changing the story as it goes along. But following the buzz generated by Netflix's interactive Black Mirror film Bandersnatch, video streaming sites in China now want their own interactive media.
Bilibili, China's biggest video site for fans of ACG (anime, comics and games), is now letting all users create Bandersnatch-type interactive videos on its platform. The company is even offering a total of 1 million yuan (US$141,600) in cash rewards for outstanding producers. Using Bilibili's tool, creators can produce videos that let viewers decide what a character does to experience different endings.
Bilibili is just the latest company in China to jump on this trend. Tencent, Baidu's iQiyi and Alibaba's Youku -- China's three biggest video sites -- are all producing their own interactive films and shows. Tencent and iQiyi are also both offering interactive video production tools and guidelines for creators.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, which also owns Youku.)
"The highly frequent use of live streaming, Q&A, communities and bullet chats means that users are no longer willing to passively accept information," iQiyi said in the announcement for its interactive videos. "Interaction is becoming a subconscious behavior for the young people of this generation."
iQiyi also touted the potential of 5G internet to offer a lag-free experience with interactive video.
Reactions to interactive videos on these sites have largely been lukewarm. Comments on social media suggest many aren't excited by the idea.
"I watch videos because I don't want to move," one person said on Zhihu. "If I wanted to move, I'd be playing games. You have to make me click. I'd be annoyed, really."
"Interactive videos are not appealing enough to be worth the time they cost users," another Zhihu user wrote.
Investors, on the other hand, are much more optimistic. Justin Guan, vice president at Zhenfund, China's top seed-stage VC, thinks that videos are bound to become more interactive.
"Don't you feel like in three or five years that you should be able to interact with all the videos you see on all of your screens, no matter how deep the interactions are?" Guan asked. "That is naturally what we imagine the future will be like."
Whether people are laying on the sofa while watching TV or scrolling through videos on TikTok, people are more actively engaged with the content they're consuming now, Guan said.
He added that even though videos that require intensive interaction are unlikely to completely take over, the fact that the technology exists means many videos will contain such elements in the future.
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