‘Cat Burglar’ Spotlights Aims of Netflix’s Interactive Push

'Cat Burglar' Spotlights Aims of Netflix’s
Photo illustration: VIP+

The debut of “Cat Burglar” earlier this week falls in line with Netflix’s strategy over the past two years of releasing at least one interactive title about every three months.  

And while some subscribers may be able to name a handful of these titles that have dropped since 2020, many more likely have forgotten about Netflix’s interactive capabilities after the late 2018 debut of the buzzy “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” film, in which viewers could make choices that influenced the path of protagonist Stefan Butler. 

“Cat Burglar” is an animated interactive short (with an average runtime of about 15 minutes) where viewers answer questions to help the protagonist ("Rowdy Cat”) outsmart a guard (“Peanut the Security Pup”) to burgle a museum. While the runtime on “Cat Burglar” isn’t long, viewers can replay the short several times to encounter previously unseen sequences of Rowdy Cat attempting to outmaneuver Peanut.  

Netflix’s “Cat Burglar” was made by Charlie Brooker, who also created the “Black Mirror” series and wrote the “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” interactive film. “Cat Burglar” had received fairly positive reviews from publishers like Variety and The Guardian as of this writing.  

A reason Netflix's interactive push has flown relatively under the radar in recent years is that the more recent interactive titles just haven’t appeared to generate much traction. 

For example, as of Feb. 20, none of Netflix’s interactive titles released prior to "Cat Burglar" had appeared in the top 10 lists published on top10.Netflix.com, which offers ranking data as early as June 28 of 2021. But even before June of 2021, Netflix had not disclosed a viewership metric for any of its interactive titles, suggesting that they hadn’t blown up on the service as much as marquee Netflix titles. 

Moreover, of the seven interactive titles that released prior to June 28 of 2021 and after February 24 of 2020 (when Netflix launched its daily top 10s), only two made it into Netflix’s daily U.S. top 10 ranking for film or TV series for more than three days following debut, according to FlixPatrol data. 

Of course, it’s tough for Netflix’s interactive titles to crack top 10 rankings when the majority of them are shorts with a total listed runtime of 40 minutes or less. Some Netflix viewers might only be interested in viewing series they can binge-watch or movies that can distract them for longer than an hour, for example. 

But despite the lack of a “Bandersnatch”-sized choose-your-own-adventure hit in recent times, it still makes sense for the company to occasionally drop interactive titles.  

That’s because Netflix can use the information gathered from interactive title choices to inform its content strategy. If, for example, Netflix were to offer an interactive title based on “Squid Game,” where viewers could choose between going through the story as any of the franchise’s main characters and the majority of viewers chose Sae-byeok, that would help Netflix justify creating a spinoff of "Squid Game” focused on the last surviving female contestant of the original series.   

Moreover, interactive titles now can directly inform another initiative that Netflix is now looking to for future growth: mobile gaming.  

If Netflix is on the fence about creating a video game tied to one of its original franchises, it could first create an interactive short based on the franchise. And that interactive short receiving high viewership and completion rates could help Netflix justify moving forward with a video game push.   

It’s still early days for Netflix’s gaming push. The streamer had 14 mobile games available as of this writing, but most are not tied to Netflix original IP, and many are more casual plays — i.e. something you would play in while waiting in line for something else, rather than make an appointment to play. 

But Netflix’s recent release of “Hextech Mayhem,” a game featuring characters from Riot Games’ popular “League of Legends” franchise, is one hint that it will develop more significant gaming titles in the future.  

Nailing video games is becoming more urgent for Netflix as it aims to compete for eyeballs against large gaming platforms that are increasingly being turned to for non-gaming elements.