With a recent report highlighting “subscription fatigue” on streaming services, we see that the time has arrived for interactive drama to step in and allow audiences to maintain their engagement with a series rather than being pushed into a new one..
As audiences, we are now wise to the limitations of “you may also like”, and these generalised algorithms are beginning to compound our struggles to find something to watch despite the breadth of content available.
The current form of bingeing — from one episode to another — we term ‘horizontal bingeing’. It is typified by audiences watching a series until it ends, then skimming through the Guide to find similar shows, shows with the cast, with the same director, in the same location, until our patience runs out, we switch off and do something else.
The challenge is that, as a viewer, I want to stay with the show I have been enjoying, not skip to another. I want to keep the characters alive, and stay in their world before the next series starts.
Over the past decade I have produced a number for these ‘bridges’ that extend the storylines from the television into mobile or web-based platforms. Without exception, audiences loved them. In some cases, they were so attractive to viewers that, when the next series started, audience market share had increased by 25% for a primetime mainstream series, because there was a sense of innovation and newness around the show.
This is what we call ‘vertical bingeing’- where an audience engages more deeply with a show and its characters. Indeed we built the Charisma.ai technology for this purpose, so that these audiences could talk to characters, speaking through laptops, mobiles and televisions as we do to our real friends and colleagues, but in a fictional world with fictional characters..
Vertical bingeing keeps characters alive during off-air periods when the show is being steadily forgotten. It intensifies audience relationships with the characters, deepening engagement and increasing loyalty to the show’s brand, ready for when the series returns to the screens.
Where a series might have an episode that lasts 45 minutes, our interactive experiences have audiences in intense conversation for hours with the characters, much like we do In real life over dinner, at a party, in a negotiation, or other social setting.
Vertical bingeing is not new audience behaviour, but it is a new form of storytelling which requires understanding of both storytelling, new technology and how the two come together to deliver what audiences want.
Marshall MacLuhan believed that: “we look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future”. Streaming services show us that new technology is being used to more efficiently present media from the past, but the really exciting transformation comes when we start to turn around and look at what the technology itself is capable of.
It is this sort of storytelling that we obsess over with Charisma.ai, and why we run so many Writers Rooms — to explore the depths of storytelling that new platforms enable, and to train creators to make the next generation of stories that allow us to inhabit their worlds for longer than ever before.