Netflix’s ‘Black Mirror: Bandersnatch’ in hot water; what fork will it take?

Netflix sued over choose your own adventure movie,

If Netflix is looking to pull itself out of debt by banking its future on interactive content, ChooseCo LLC, maker of the popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” book series, may have other plans for the streaming giant.

The owner of the popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” series is suing the streaming giant for trademark infringement. Netflix engaged in extensive negotiations with Chooseco for a number of years to license the name, but an agreement was never reached.

The “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” Premise

Netflix added its first feature film to a growing interactive content lineup when it premiered “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.”

The standalone movie is part of the streaming service’s popular sci-fi anthology series “Black Mirror.” The interactive film format allows viewers to choose different plot pathways, which lead to different endings.

In the movie, programmer Stefan Butler wants to turn a novel called “Bandersnatch” into an innovative adventure video game. When he tries to explain his plan to his skeptical father, he describes “Bandersnatch” by saying, “It’s a choose your own adventure book.”

This dialogue, and the use of the phrase “choose your own adventure,” is part of what prompted ChooseCo to sue Netflix for trademark infringement.

The ChooseCo Lawsuit

ChooseCo LLC filed a lawsuit against Netflix on Jan. 11 for trademark infringement, unfair competition, and dilution, among other things. The Vermont-based publisher alleged the book series will suffer damage, as the dark, graphic nature of the movie will now be associated with the Choose Your Own Adventure brand.

ChooseCo Co-founder and Publisher Shannon Gilligan issued a statement saying, “Fictional ‘Bandersnatch’ is not a Choose Your Own Adventure book nor does the movie adhere to the Choose Your Own Adventure rules about successful interactive storytelling.”

She added, “The use of Choose Your Own Adventure in association with such graphic content is likely to cause significant damage, impacting our book sales and affecting our ability to work with licensing partners in the future.  We would prefer not to resort to litigation but given the damage that we will suffer as a result of the use of our mark we’ve been left with no other option.”

Per the suit, Netflix pursued a license to use the “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark over a couple years but a deal was never brokered. ChooseCo is seeking a minimum of $25 million in damages.

Is Netflix Entering a Survival of the Fittest Age?

A significant spike in Netflix subscription prices was just announced. Netflix’s $11 per month plan is reportedly being raised to $13 per month. The increase will obviously help boost revenue.

However, the streaming service must continue to spend money to make money and stave off a growing number of competitors. Netflix must also attract and retain viewers with content, which also costs money. The company was looking to take on $2 billion in additional debt by offering unsecured notes last fall, presumably to invest in new content.

Another problem is that Netflix is no longer the only streaming game in town. Rivals like Disney+, Amazon, and NBCUniversal are all launching services. So, how does the streaming pioneer maintain an edge in an increasingly crowded field? More importantly, how does Netflix ensure its survival?

Does Home Entertainment Have an Interactive Future?

Home entertainment is arguably entering a new viewing era. Social platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are geared toward interactivity by their post and reply structure. Celebrities even connect directly with fans by hosting live Q&A sessions in real time on Facebook and Instagram.

Netflix has a small amount of interactive content which is geared toward kids such as “Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale.” HBO dabbled in the format with “Mosaic,” a limited series which allowed viewers to see episodes from a different character’s point-of-view via an app.

Amazon’s Twitch aired an interactive drama series called “Artificial.” Viewers answered polls in the series which changed how the episodes played out. Some people even feel China is adopting a life-imitating-art strategy by rolling out a “Black Mirror”-style behavior-based rating system.

In a gamer and device-driven society, will home-viewing consumers demand interactive content to tune in, stay interested, and engaged? Netflix likely hopes “Bandersnatch” will advance its place in an emerging interactive content market. With a lawsuit looming, whether Netflix will get the happy ending it desires remains to be seen.