Writer Ed Solomon with film storyboard. Image: HBO.

APEX Insight: When it comes to interactive storytelling, viewers can choose which subject earns the leading role.

You sneak a peek at your row-mate’s seatback screen, and she’s watching the same show as you… but the protagonist is a different character. Welcome to what could be the next big trend in in-flight entertainment (IFE), where narratives are under the audience’s control. A captive viewer needs only a touch-sensitive screen and the right kind of content in order to take charge.

Steven Soderbergh’s new series, Mosaic, sees HBO challenging the notion of perspective itself. Viewers use an app to switch viewpoints at particular points as the murder mystery progresses, following one of two main characters. The choice in protagonist will shape the viewer’s experience of the show, which is peppered with “Easter eggs” of hidden content, adding depth to the overall story.

“Soderbergh’s vision taps into key facets of entertainment: choice, interaction and surprise,” – Duncan Abell, Global Eagle

Duncan Abell, VP of Creative at Global Eagle, dubs this “interactive reality,” saying, “Soderbergh’s vision and complex execution taps into key facets of entertainment: choice, interaction and surprise.”

Meanwhile, Netflix is exploring choose-your-own-adventure storytelling, with Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale. Viewers guide Puss in Boots through chapters in an immersive storybook, with their decisions affecting the course of the story as he tries to escape. Smaller children have grown up in the presence of touch screens, so interactive entertainment comes naturally to them. For those of us old enough to file tax returns, there’s novelty to be found in a film or TV show whose experience changes with repeat viewings.

Touchscreen IFE systems are now de rigueur in the cabin, with bring-your-own-device interfaces growing in popularity.

Newer IFE systems running on easily modified platforms such as Android have been ready and waiting for narrative interactivity, and now content creators outside the airline industry are stepping up to provide those stories.

“The adoption in the travel space is highly likely, with the time to become addicted even greater, and especially where the investment can come with sponsorship to offset the cost,” Abell says. “Whether this happens in the seatback or portable devices remains to be seen and will be driven by ease and speed of deployment, as well as update friendliness.” Looking at synergies with other cabin tech trends, he adds, “Virtual reality will certainly increase the immersive nature of the experience, and any additional 3-D or 180-degree vision could define a new genre of program-and-game-blended media.”

“Twisted Plot” was originally published in the 8.2 April/May issue of APEX Experience magazine.

Jordan juggles deadlines across various time zones as he writes about travel, culture, entertainment, and technology.