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Netflix wants to let people watch things at twice the speed, but Hollywood is pushing back

Netflix wants to let people watch things at twice the speed, but Hollywood is pushing back

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‘Leave them as they were intended to be seen’

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Image: Netflix

Netflix is testing a feature that will allow a small group of Android phone users to change the playback speed of what they’re watching, but some of Hollywood’s biggest actors and filmmakers are pushing back.

Directors Judd Apatow (Knocked Up), Brad Bird (The Incredibles), and Peyton Reed (Ant-Man) asked Netflix on Twitter not to move forward with the tool. Actor Aaron Paul (El Camino, BoJack Horseman) called it a bad decision.

“Why support and finance filmmakers visions on one hand and then work to destroy the presentation of those films on the other?” Bird tweeted.

A Netflix spokesperson told The Verge that the company is always experimenting with ways to improve subscribers’ viewing experiences. Netflix doesn’t have any plans at this time to roll it out to larger screens in the future. The spokesperson added that while Netflix understands the concerns of creators when it comes to playback controls, this isn’t any different than what DVD players have been capable of doing for years. It’s a heavily requested feature from subscribers, the spokesperson said. Netflix users will have to opt in to the option to play shows and movies at various speeds every single time, meaning it isn’t an automatic fixture.

“Why support and finance filmmakers visions on one hand and then work to destroy the presentation of those films on the other?”

This is just one of a few features Netflix is currently testing for some mobile Android users. The company is also testing the ability for some Android mobile users to change the brightness levels of an episode directly in the episode window, as well as giving customers the ability to more directly control different language audio.

The original announcement over playback speed testing was met with a divisive response. While some people agreed with the aforementioned filmmakers’ stances, others argued that it’s a common feature for listening to podcasts or watching YouTube videos that would be greatly welcome on Netflix. This is especially true, the latter group argued, when binge-watching a show they’ve already seen. Having the ability to slow down a feature or show is often a request from people who are watching foreign language titles, according to Netflix’s spokesperson.

The debate boils down to streaming technology’s impact on artistic control. Netflix is trying to serve the subscriber — the person spending $13 every month to watch what they want, when they want, however they want. Giving them more control over their viewing experience is crucial to Netflix’s core philosophy; it serves its subscribers first and foremost.

Netflix doesn’t have any plans at this time to roll out the feature to larger screens

The Hollywood guard sees this as an affront to artistic vision. Whereas most movies hit theaters before they were made available on DVD, giving filmmakers some control over how their films were watched by audiences before seeing a home release, many titles on Netflix aren’t. Netflix has gone from a platform that simply plays things on command to a bonafide distributor. There are more Netflix Originals than ever before, and many of those films don’t receive the same theatrical release treatment that a Marvel movie does.

The playback function seems especially fraught with filmmakers, and that’s understandable. TV showrunners have learned to deal with people’s use of personal technology since before TiVo. Television subscribers have played around with the way they’ve watched TV since taping shows in the ‘90s, fast-forwarding and rewinding episodes to make for a better viewing experience for themselves — even if that’s not the way the showrunners and writers intended it to be watched. Personal technology disrupted TV watching so long ago that it feels normal now.

That’s not the case for movies. But the more that streaming services step into studio and distributor roles, the more change occurs. Director Martin Scorsese recently called this new streaming-first era “an even bigger revolution than sound brought to cinema,” adding that it “opens up the original conception of what a film is,” according to The Associated Press. Part of that revolution is understanding that while filmmakers still have control over the technology they use to make their movies, viewers more frequently have control over the technology they use to watch these movies. Adjustable playback speeds might be hard to stomach, but it also seems like an inevitable feature.