Netflix is letting people choose the speed at which they want to watch something on their phone or tablet with new playback controls.
Netflix will allow anyone on an Android mobile device to stream at either 0.5x or 0.75x speeds for slowed-down viewing and 1.25x or 1.5x speeds for faster watching. Those are slightly fewer options than YouTube, which allows people to slow all the way down to 0.25x speeds, and speed up by twice the normal playback speed. Playback speed options are also available on downloaded titles that people have saved for offline viewing.
Subscribers must opt in to use the playback speeds with every single title they want to watch; it won’t just remain active when you pick something else to watch. This prevents people from accidentally watching everything at 1.5x speed if they don’t want to. The feature is rolling out tomorrow and will be available to everyone globally in the coming weeks.
Netflix announced it was testing the feature in 2019 and was met with backlash from Hollywood’s creative community. Actor Aaron Paul and director Brad Bird spoke out against Netflix’s decision to introduce the playback controls, and director Judd Apatow tweeted in October that “distributors don’t get to change the way the content is presented.”
Netflix’s team is introducing a number of features with the rollout to try to work with the creative community to ensure the quality of the content isn’t disrupted, including automatically correcting “the pitch in the audio at faster and slower speeds,” according to the company.
“We’ve also been mindful of the concerns of some creators,” a spokesperson told The Verge. “It’s why we have capped the range of playback speeds and require members to vary the speed each time they watch something new — versus fixing their settings based on the last speed they used.”
The creative community understandably wants their work to be seen a specific way. It’s why Christopher Nolan refuses to have his movies premiere anywhere other than in a theater. But distribution methods have changed over the last few decades that have already disrupted the industry. VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray players, alongside digital retailers and PVRs have given viewers more control over how they watch movies and TV shows. There are people who listen to podcasts at faster playback speeds and, anecdotally, I watch all YouTube videos at twice the speed.
Keela Robison, Netflix’s vice president of product innovation, addressed the changes in technology that have allowed for different types of viewing over the years, and why Netflix decided to move forward after a brief testing phase.
“The feature has been much requested by members for years,” Robison wrote. “Most important of all, our tests show that consumers value the flexibility it provides whether it’s rewatching their favorite scene or slowing things down because they’re watching with subtitles or have hearing difficulties.”
Both the National Association of the Deaf and the National Federation of the Blind commended Netflix on adding the playback features. Since captions are slowed down (and also sped up) to keep in time with the images on-screen, it can help deaf people who might prefer the captions at a slightly slower speed, according to Howard A. Rosenblum, CEO of the National Association of the Deaf. On the other side, many people in the blind community “can understand and appreciate audio played at a much faster pace than what might be comfortable for most sighted people,” Everette Bacon, a board member on the National Federation of the Blind, said in a statement.
Netflix is planning to keep an eye on the response to the playback speeds from both the creative community and subscribers. The company is also set to begin testing on iOS devices and the web version of the app, but there’s no testing phase set for Netflix’s TV app.