Spotify likes to see itself as the on-demand audio platform that will kill off ‘linear radio’, but even its audio is still linear in the sense that you choose a track, playlist or podcast and listen to it.
However, the emergence of smart speakers and voice assistants has seen some experimentation around interactive audio, such as Choose Your Own Adventure-style branching narratives. Something that Netflix has also explored in the video space.
A British startup called Panivox is hoping to build on this with its own platform called RichCast, which is launching later this year.
The company describes its focus as “voice-driven interactive entertainment”, which will deliver stories, digital comics, factual shows and education via its own app for iOS, Android, PC and Mac.
The pitch is that people will be able to “talk to the stories they’re listening to, influencing events and choosing their own path”. It’s not just about audio though: there will be video, AI voices and touchscreen controls.
Panivox knows its interactivity onions: its three co-founders are games industry veterans. CEO Philip Oliver and chief creative officer Andrew Oliver (as The Oliver Twins) have been making games since the 1980s, including creating one of the most popular game franchises of that era: Dizzy.
Chief development officer Neil Campbell, meanwhile, co-founded developer Viewpoint Games, and has worked on franchises including Guitar Hero and DJ Hero.
Where will the content for RichCast come from? Panivox has already commissioned some stories, and is planning to use competitions and sponsorships to drum up more in the coming months ahead of the official launch of its creator tools in December, and then the debut of its mobile apps early in 2022.
The ultimate aim is to have a community of developers making money from their stories, including bigger brands. And as it turns out, music-focused experiences are already on the company’s radar.
“Audio is so important in RichCast, so we see many opportunities for new interactive music experiences that have never been done before,” Philip Oliver told Music Ally. “RichCast takes everything that is awesome about podCasts and adds interactivity and rich media.”
He also explained that the RichCast Studio – the tools for creating stories – will be built in to the company’s app “so everyone can be a creator and a publisher”. They will also be able to see analytics on their stories and update them.
For now, Panivox is focusing on its own app for PC, Mac, Android and iOS, rather than other platforms, even if there are now several that could support this kind of interactive content.
“Potentially we could take RichCast to consoles and smart speakers, but we know that everyone that has smart speakers and consoles [also] have mobiles,” said Oliver. “So, our focus is on making the initial four platforms amazing.”
Netflix’s experiments with branching narrative, such as Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, may be the most obvious reference point for where RichCast is going. However, Oliver said that he hopes Panivox can open up this idea to many more creators.
“Not only can RichCast easily play interactive streaming video like Bandersnatch, with natural voice input or buttons, but we give the ability to everyone to make this content far easier than Netflix found it to make,” he said.
“We hope to enable the next Charlie Brookers [Black Mirror’s co-creator] and we’re very excited to see what people will make. Charlie will be excited to see what we’ve made.”
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