These thoughts have been rattling around in my head for a while now, so I thought it was about time they were jotted down for you all to have a read of. Notably, my arm was twisted by Bandersnatch. Let’s go!
Netflix is quite an amazing company. In a few short years (albeit I know it was longer than it seems) they have become a household name. Almost everyone has access to an account, and you can watch on pretty much any screen.
Day by day, we can safely assume Netflix collects viewing data. They use this for their recommendations to you as to what to watch. We can assume they collect content viewed, when you paused, when you gave up, when you binged, and for how long, and much more. After a few months of even 1-2 hours of watching in the evenings, Netflix has a pretty good idea of what you’re in to.
So let’s think forward a few years and I present to you a future (not the future, just a future).
You get home, it’s been a day. Work didn’t go well. Pay day is a few days out, and your favourite takeaway place is shut today. You just wanna get into bed and watch some Netflix. So you do.
You put on your headset. It looks a bit like an Emotiv headset, but it has 3D glasses and headphones built in. It’s bluetooth. You turn on Netflix.
Netflix takes a reading through your headset. It learns you’ve had a day. It learns about Karen blocking your idea in that meeting, and Brian talking over you at lunch. So, it starts to play something for you.
That’s right - you didn’t choose. You see, Netflix no longer carries existing titles, the content is all original. The content is scripted in real time, using deep, deep neural networks. Netflix starts playing you an office comedy. You recognise some of the actors (it’s not really them, it’s normal actors with your favourite super-imposed using Deepfakes, no one in hollywood has worked for years) , and it starts off with a few good jokes about broken printers. You laugh. You remember printers and how bad they were. Netflix notices your smile. You’re happy it’s live action this time, some of the cartoon and animated ones don’t really float your boat.
The content now adapts, building on that uplift in mood. Maybe it introduces a romantic couple. You quickly get bored, as a straight couple is something you’ve seen a million times now, so the content adapts again, and the female protagonist makes an innocently cute smile at a woman on the bus home. The story follows them now. You’re into it. You love seeing all relationships represented.
Later, the new couple start to face some money troubles together. It’s a problem you don’t like. It reminds you of the time you had money troubles, it kinda gets to you. It makes you uncomfortable. The content adapts again. They win a small lotto prize draw, they move into a new place together. A new problem emerges, one perhaps you’re more interested in. Your intrigue is recognised, rewarded, and elevated by the adapting content. Where did that candelabra left in the apartment before them come from? What is its story?
By this point, it’s been 4 hours. “Are you still watching?” You bet you are. But it is time for bed, and so the content adapts again, finding a natural ending to this part of the story. You’re able to close Netflix, remove your headset, and rest up for another day.
When Netflix first shipped this feature a few years earlier, it was fairly primitive. Authors had written the scripts, there were a few choices that kept fanning out into many, many different endings, and the deep fakes weren’t - they had just got the actors to film every possible scenario. It was expensive, and time consuming. The first experimental piece of content, called Bandersnatch, years earlier in 2018, even laughably had a UI where users had to choose which path explicitly. And the story ended up the same anyway! Oh boy, it’s come a long way since then. Fully original, fully adapting to what you want to see.
No authors wrote this office comedy, no actors acted solely for it, and you’ll be the only one to ever see it. It’s special. It’s unique.
Oh, and support for multiple viewers is launching next week, too. So. Who’s watching?