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Netflix Launches ‘Puss in Book,’ Its First Interactive Kids Story

Netflix may just have found a way to make kids TV shows even more addictive: The video service launched a first interactive kids show Tuesday that allows the little ones to pick between branching narratives.

“Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale,” features Puss, the Shrek character that eventually got its own Dreamworks Animation-produced TV show on Netflix. In this story, Puss finds himself stuck in a book of fairy tales. To escape, he has to master a number of challenges — and viewers have a say about which ones. Should Puss venture into the world of Sinbad, or Snow White? Should Goldilocks’ bears be friendly, or grumpy?

“I have a six-year-old daughter who talks to these shows all the time,” said Netflix director of product innovation Carla Engelbrecht Fisher during a recent interview with Variety. But while shows like “Dora the Explorer” or “Blue’s Clues” encourage viewers to shout out answers, they don’t actually give kids a chance to interact. “It’s a faux two-way conversation,” she said.

That’s why Fisher jumped at the chance to build truly interactive TV shows with branched narratives. “We are putting viewers in the driver’s seat,” she said.

One of the choice points from “Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile” Courtesy of Netflix

In addition to “Puss in Book,” Netflix is also getting ready to release “Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile” by July 14. Based on an American Greetings- and Stoopid Buddy Stoodios-produced Netflix original starring a truck-racing dog and his pet ferret, the title lets viewers make a number of choices for stunts that will likely go horribly wrong. And next year, Netflix is set to debut a third interactive title, “Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout.”

The two first interactive adventures both feature a number of dual choices, giving viewers 10 to 15 seconds to make up their minds and then take a pick with their TV remote or game controller, or simply by interacting with a touch screen. Can’t decide? Then Netflix will make the choice for you and continue with the story.

Netflix kick-started its interactive content project two years ago, with dozens of employees working on the technology for the better part of a year, albeit some on a part-time basis. “This is very different for Netflix,” said Fisher. Not only did the company have to tweak some of its back-end technology to integrate interactive content into its catalog, Netflix and its studio partners also had to figure out how to best tell these kinds of stories.

Part of the story map for “Puss in Book.” Courtesy of Netflix

How many choices are too many? How deep should individual branches go? And how do you even communicate to viewers that they should pick up their remotes and pick their own path? Questions like these led to long conversations among the team, said Fisher. In the end, “Puss in Book” actually features a shorter and a longer path, with the option for viewers to go through both in one sitting.

At launch, these kinds of interactive stories are working on most newer smart TVs and streaming boxes as well as on iOs devices. Apple TV, Chromecast and Android phones and tablets as well as web viewing aren’t supported for now. But Netflix is looking to eventually bring the format to additional platforms — and may even experiment with more advanced forms of interactivity, or other content genres, in the future. “We’ve gotta start somewhere,” said Fisher.

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