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Netflix is no stranger to deploying its IP in immersive experiences, having coordinated past events centered on its series such as Bridgerton and Squid Game. Now, Netflix is tapping Stranger Things, its 1980s-centric creation, for a fully immersive and interactive experience to coincide with the premiere of the fourth season of the streamer’s hit series.

What happened

Stranger Things: The Experience

The exhibition immerses viewers in the world of Stranger Things, including key locations such as Hawkins National Laboratory, Arcade Palace, and Scoops Ahoy. Image: Netflix

On May 22, Stranger Things: The Experience launched in New York, at the Duggal Greenhouse, in partnership with experiential company Fever. Upon entry, visitors are recast as “test subjects” in a recreated Hawkins National Laboratory (which figures in the latest season of Stranger Things), where they engage with live actors, “telekinetic” puzzles, and video recordings featuring the cast members. The tour culminates with a 3D short film centered on the Upside Down and featuring a live actor interacting with the cast onscreen.

After the four-part experience, visitors are guided to the Mix-Tape, a 1980s-themed zone featuring free arcade games, an AR scavenger hunt, a gift shop, photo op areas, and callbacks to the series, including Arcade Palace and the Scoops Ahoy ice-cream parlor.

Why it matters

On the heels of events centered on Bridgerton and Squid Game, Stranger Things: The Experience demonstrates Netflix’s continued bid to expand its IP into the immersive space. Image: Netflix

More and more, Netflix is turning to such in-person events as a way to enlarge on its IP, while leveraging the existing fanbases of its shows. As Greg Lombardo, Netflix’s Head of Experiences, tells Jing Culture & Commerce of the company’s Bridgerton event, “[The show] is a world that fans want to walk into and experience first hand so we really wanted to create a fully immersive environment filled with opportunities for fans to celebrate and share their love of the show.”

Stranger Things: The Experience likewise aims to immerse fans within a popular show (also see: 2019’s Scoops Ahoy immersive pop-up and 2020’s Stranger Things: The Drive-Into Experience). From a visual perspective, improv actors and special effects add to the experience. And while the Mix-Tape featured a much more immersive space, the tour pacing felt misbalanced, as visitors were forced to stand for an almost hour-long experience through four rooms. For visitors with disabilities or physical limitations, the experience might be more exhausting than entertaining. 

As Stranger Things: The Experience opens big in New York, San Francisco, and London, the event signals how much Netflix is banking on a product that is on contract for an additional season and has cost approximately $30 million per episode. Despite competing amid Netflix’s crowded slate, the platform’s investment has paid off: Stranger Things 4 logged some 286 million hours viewed over its premiere weekend, beating the 193 million views that Bridgerton‘s second season drew. It marks the highest-ever weekend debut for an English-language series on Netflix, happening alongside a bump in viewership for the earlier seasons of Stranger Things.

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This is a win that the streamer needs, particularly after a disastrous first quarter of 2022 that saw Netflix record the loss of 200,000 subscribers, tanking its stock. Post-lockdown, a consumers are opting out of at-home entertainment for in-person cultural experiences, Stranger Things: The Experience, in addition to the platform’s other physical events, represents for Netflix a way to reengage audiences beyond their screens, while differentiating its offerings from those of other streamers and potentially unlocking new demographics.

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