The interactive viewing experience of Secret Life Of Boys has been captivating audiences for years, and getting a lot of attention as they did it. Claiming awards and nominations around the world, the team has even scooped up a BAFTA for their work. We reached out to global production company, Zodiak Kids, and creator Anthony Q Farrell to dive deep into the creation process for this phenomenal international interactive television show built with WIREWAX studio.
What is Secret Life Of Boys?
Zodiak Kids (ZK):
Secret Life of Boys is a BAFTA award-winning comedy-drama for the touchscreen generation that’s run for three series on CBBC and ABC Australia.
So far, there are 125 five minute interactive episodes and over 250 unlockable secret videos to be enjoyed. While it does also exist as regular 22 minute long episodes for linear TV broadcast, it’s best experienced in its purest interactive form online.
Anthony Q Farrell (AQF)
The main inspiration for creating Secret Life Of Boys was I just wanted a show that would be fun and interesting, and I just wanted a show that would kind of hone in on the summer. I had so many memories of me and my brother and sister and cousins just doing all sorts of ridiculous stuff during the summer, and I think it’s a sort of relatable thing.
I wanted to capture that essence.
How did you build it?
The half-hour sitcom is an incredibly proven and effective format for delivering satisfying laughs and storytelling. When developing our new format, the critical question we needed to answer was whether adding interactivity would enhance the experience of watching a comedy-drama. If the answer was no, why do it? If the answer was yes, then how?
This isn’t a “choose your own adventure” branching narrative, instead, it’s a “dive into the adventure” where players get more of the gags they like. Everyone gets the same crafted, satisfying story. There’s no download or app required – everything streams to your device from your browser. There’s also no forced interaction. It’s all optional and positively reinforced (with either more jokes or more secrets). There’s no punishment for not interacting or gates that require it before you can move on.
We didn’t want an interactive show that was choose your own adventure, I personally didn’t want to write 75 pages for a 20-minute story, I wanted the story to stay the same no matter what happened during the interactive process so we had to figure out interactive things that were going to be fun and interesting but not change the story.
That’s where we really started from, what I really focused on – things that could be built into the show that was fun, interesting, silly, could be a diversion from the story or even an enhancement of the story you’re telling but always bring you back.
Zodiak Kids spent a lot of time evaluating different interactive video platforms, wanting to find something that would work equally well across mobile, tablet and desktop, and that was powerful enough to be customised to create linking videos. The clear winner was WIREWAX who, at the time, were the only company who’d found a way to circumvent Apple’s technical restrictions to bring interactive video to the iPhone browser.
In WIREWAX Studio there was also a powerful and practical tool that our team could use in parallel to the usual TV post-production process to quickly ingest work-in-progress edits to test the interactivity. Any necessary changes could be fed back to the edit to ensure that we had full confidence all of our timings worked and we wouldn’t need to keep going back to the post-production house for tweaks (expensive in time and ££!).
We just felt like they were the stronger of the options. We felt like they were pushing toward the future in a way that other companies weren’t. And that they were going to be a good partner for Secret Life of Boys.
Where do we go from here for interactive TV?
We know that audiences are still watching a lot of television, but we also know that they’re increasingly doing so on smaller, more personal, smarter devices. What we’ve hopefully proved with Secret Life of Boys is that there is a space for new TV formats that make the most of what these devices can offer – not replacing linear TV, but complementing it, and empowering audiences to choose whether or not they want to interact.
I think the sky’s the limit. There are so many ways to consume content now. I do think there is obviously a place for interactive content because I do think people want to be invested in the show.
You look at what happened with Bandersnatch recently with Netflix, it’s a huge success because it was different and new, and interesting. I shouldn’t say new, we’ve been doing it for a while, but it was different from what Netflix has been doing and so people kind of flocked to it.
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