The internet will always find a way.
Netflix’s new choose-your-own-adventure style episode of Black Mirror, “Bandersnatch,” has the online world abuzz with all the different storylines available for the viewer/player of the streaming digital experience.
Overlooked in the discussion regarding which breakfast cereal best kicks off the main character’s day lies another probing question. How, exactly, does one pirate a show that has roughly 5 hours of total runtime spooled out over multiple non-linear scenes requiring a specially designed Branch Manager tool to access?
Fear not, internet pirates are on the case.
While some in media and online have speculated that the format of “Bandersnatch” would make it “more difficult to pirate,” difficult does not equal impossible — a fact we are reminded of by a quick stroll to The Pirate Bay and Reddit.
On The Pirate Bay, a notorious torrenting site, we found numerous copies of the episode for download that addressed the specific problems inherent in illegally downloading a choose-your-own-adventure video in a variety of ways.
One file description, for example, explains that out of “the 250 available decision events, this is the default 68 choices Netflix have defined as the default ‘linear’ timeline.” It lists a runtime of 1 hour, 33 minutes and 12 seconds, and seemingly just plays out as a straight film (for legal reasons we did not download the file). In other words, this iteration solves the aforementioned problem of different storylines by simply ignoring it.
Another pirated copy, listing a 5 hour and 12 minute runtime, suggests a different approach. With reports putting the total amount of all the final “Bandersnatch” footage combined at just over five hours, it would seem that this content pirate just decided to go ahead and upload everything as a single uninterrupted movie.
However, that approach defeats the entire purpose of the thing. Seeing all possible outcomes, one after another, is not the same as making a specific choice and watching the ramifications of that choice unfold — a fact the true sophisticates of Reddit clearly understand.
A Reddit thread titled “Soo…. How the hell am I going to pirate Netflix’ Bandersnatch?” asks if “there is a method of preserving the [episode’s] interactivity” via a torrent file.
The top response as of this writing, which begins with “Have none of you used interactive porn?”, ends just as poorly as it started: with a suggestion to use a flash player.
A different Reddit thread suggests a more technical approach: specially, using the MKV file format to create “editions, file linking and ordered chapters.” A helpfully linked blog post explains that, if implemented correctly, these features “let the viewer choose between multiple ‘angles’ or versions of the video (said versions may or may not be in the same file).”
In other words, the necessary tech to pirate and view a fully interactive copy of “Bandersnatch” is already out there. Someone just has to make it happen. If the “Bandersnatch” format ever moves from gimmick to mainstream, you should expect custom-tailored pirating techniques to move with it.
Of course, you could always take the extremely lazy and technically unsophisticated approach of just watching the reported five distinct endings on YouTube. That or sign up for a Netflix account.
After all, in the end, you get to make your own choice as to how you’ll watch “Bandersnatch” (if you watch it at all)…which seems fitting.