Google has been squirming around with its premium content strategy for YouTube. Recent reports claim that it has cut scripted shows from its budget in favor of cheaper programming. But the storyline has taken another turn today as YouTube has announced a foray into choose-your-own-adventure programming.
The company told Bloomberg that it has assigned Ben Relles, who led the unscripted programming unit, to head a new division focused on interactive programming and live events. It did not detail any of the potential projects it would work on, but may do so at its upfronts on May 3.
In addition to the content, there's the technology at concern: back when YouTube supported annotations, creators had the liberty to link one video to many others by placing visible or invisible boxes into the viewing field for curious watchers to click on. They could sneak in Easter egg content or, if they were ambitious enough, create a choose-your-own-adventure program.
Expectations have risen since then. Netflix's interactive film, "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch," takes advantage of server-side technology that allows the streaming video service to present scene options to viewers and to load their choice without a perceptible interruption in the stream. That technology is also able to remember which choices a viewer has made over time and deliver different choices based on that history.
Susanne Daniels, head of original programming at YouTube, said in a statement that the company has "amazing new tools and opportunities to create and tell multilayered and interactive stories."
Google has an insatiable appetite for bulking up it servers with new technology — examples include TensorFlow computing units for machine learning and improvements for Stadia, its cloud gaming effort. Whatever the company can do for YouTube on its backend, it could turn around those new tools for other purposes.
Importantly, as the video streaming service prepares to make all of its original content available for free in 2020, it will rely on a surge of viewers tuning into, perhaps, a choose-your-own-adventure series to generate ad revenue — the company made $15 billion of it last year.