First there was “Bandersnatch,” now there is “Tala’s World.”
Interactive media is making the jump to smart speakers, starting with a new serialized young adult adventure series produced by audio startup Xandra, and licensed exclusively by Amazon. “Tala’s World” consists of seven episodes, which invite listeners to come along on an audio adventure that involves collecting clues, interviewing suspects, and ultimately solving a crime.
Participants are guided through the world of the show by a elven-like character called Blobby (pictured above), who wants to investigate the disappearance of his best friend Tala. The only problem: Blobby is terribly nervous, and quickly intimidated by some of the other characters in the show. With that, it’s up to the listener to make key decisions, lead interrogations, and ultimately solve the show’s mystery.
The first episode of “Tala’s World” is being released exclusively for Alexa devices this coming Monday, with the second episode following on Dec. 13. Subsequent episodes will follow every two weeks until the show concludes in late February. The first two episodes will be available for free to everyone, and access to subsequent installments can be unlocked for a one-time payment of $4.99. Subscribers to Amazon’s Freetime service get access to the entire series for free.
“Tala’s World showcases how voice can enhance immersive storytelling, providing users with an engaging way to influence a plot’s outcome,” said Amazon Alexa skills director Joe Balzarini. “We’re thrilled that Xandra has created a voice-first experience that demonstrates how many creative possibilities exist for interactive storytelling.”
Xandra previously produced Alexa skills for clients like HBO, Sesame Workshop and Ubisoft, and has been recognized with multiple Clio awards for its work. CEO Zach Johnson told Variety during a recent interview that the company long had plans to launch its original IP for smart speakers and take interactive audio beyond the one-off skills and games that dominate the Alexa skills catalog today.
“The majority of the games are short-form,” Johnson said. With “Tala’s World,” Xandra instead wants to fill the void between interactive skills and long-form narrative podcasts. Each episode is between 15 and 20 minutes long, depending on the path that users take. Johnson said he expects users to play one episode at a time, and then revisit the adventure at a later time. “Bingeing on it is quite an ask,” he said.
Xandra relied on professional voice actors, and not Alexa’s text-to-speech engine, to tell the story of “Tala’s World.” This required a few interesting tweaks to help with the suspension of disbelief. In the first episode, Blobby asks the listener for her or his name — only to then decide that it is too complicated to repeat.
Users are also frequently asked to remember and repeat key phrases, but the story is forgiving if listeners don’t get it quite right. It doesn’t require too much recollection from episode to episode since “the memory mechanics are designed for kids,” Johnson said.
And while “Tala’s World” is designed as a voice-first experience with smart speakers in mind, Xandra also added original artwork for devices like the Echo Show, or Fire TVs with Alexa. “More and more Echo devices have screens,” Johnson said. “With each episode, you are getting multiple images.”
Amazon has been commissioning original audio content for Audible for some time, and has also been producing originals for its Prime Video service. However, this is the first time the company has licensed original interactive audio content for Alexa.
With millions of consumers buying smart speakers, and audio assistants finding their way into many more devices, there’s a chance that we’ll see many more such stories in the future.
“There is a huge appetite for interactive content,” Johnson said.