Creatives Are Concerned by Netflix Variable Speed Feature

Netflix is testing variable playback speeds with a small group of Android users, much to the dismay of many Hollywood creatives. Judd Apatow, Brad Bird and Aaron Paul were among those who spoke against the feature, with Apatow noting that “distributors don’t get to change the way the content is presented.” There is evidence that some users prefer to consume media at faster speeds, to improve concentration and cover more material. Netflix vice president Keela Robison said subscribers had “frequently” requested the feature.

Variety reports Robison added that the company has “been sensitive to creator concerns and haven’t included bigger screens, in particular TVs, in this test.” Netflix added that it automatically corrects the audio pitch of the movie/TV when sped up or slowed down, and the app “doesn’t allow users who are part of the test group to set a different playback speed setting as their default.”

According to Robison, “the feature could help users who are watching a title in a foreign language, or users who want to watch their favorite scene to catch additional details.” She also “promised that Netflix would take any feedback into account before deciding whether to add variable playback speeds as a feature to its new app.” Other features being tested include “easier access to screen brightness, the ability to watch videos with a locked screen, and other advanced playback controls.”

The New York Times reports Netflix pointed out that the test, which can vary the speed on phones or tablets from normal to slower (0.5X or 0.75X) or faster (1.25X and 1.5X), is “a feature that has long been available on DVD players.” YouTube added a speed-up feature on desktop five years ago and mobile in 2017, whereas Vimeo lets creators make the call whether to offer the feature.

Vimeo chief technology officer Mark Kornfilt noted that “there are reasons why a creator may want to grant their audiences the ability to control the speed on their videos.” “We see those use cases on our platform and we built speed control functionality for creators to opt into, should they choose,” he explained.

In 2017, BuzzFeed identified so-called podfasters, “who listened to sped-up podcasts and gobbled far more content than the average listener.” Some young people report speeding up nearly every video they watch. “Some videos are dragged out so much, and they speak so slow,” said 20-year old Katherine Philpott in London. “My brain likes the information quicker.”

Netflix Faces Filmmaker Backlash Over Playback Speed Test Feature, The Guardian, 10/28/19