Popular streaming service Netflix announced in late October the possibility of adding a new feature that would allow users to watch content at 1.5 times the normal speed.
The idea of watching or listening to something sped up is nothing new. It’s a normalized feature already used for podcasts and YouTube videos. But when Netflix rolled out a test version with playback speeds for TV shows and movies, controversy ensued. As of now, the feature is only an experimental suggestion, and Netflix may not go forward with it permanently.
I am technically “currently watching” (meaning I have started more than one episode and not finished) eight shows on Netflix, 10 on Hulu and even more on other streaming platforms. These numbers aren’t even counting the shows I have yet to start despite wanting to — I’ve heard so much hype about shows like “Succession” and “Fleabag” from my friends and family (shoutout to Gabriella Del Greco’s column).
The large amount of shows I have to watch might not seem surprising, given that I’m a TV columnist and TV lover. But my habit reveals a larger epidemic — one that promotes watching as many shows as possible to keep up with pop culture. Theoretically, if everyone could speed up the time it takes to watch a show, this problem would almost be eliminated.
But when the Netflix playback speed feature was announced, many filmmakers and members of “showbiz” agreed that the artistry integral to TV and film will be lost.
Director Judd Apatow was particularly angry, tweeting, “We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen.” Actor Aaron Paul, who starred in Netflix’s “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie,” was similarly mad, saying that the feature “would mean they are completely taking control of everyone else’s art and destroying it.”
As I previously mentioned, many entertainment mediums have long had the feature of speeding up or slowing down content. Audible even allows 3.5x narration speed. I assume this is the case because these platforms generally just involve recorded audio or video of someone talking. Speeding up or slowing down the content does not change much, if anything, in terms of visuals.
But for TV, speeding up content will greatly change the experience. Everyone behind the creation of a piece of television — writers, directors and actors — have thought out the pacing and length of an episode.
Camera angles and delivery of lines by actors will become nearly obsolete if users can just speed it up. The slow and suspenseful scenes that I love from HBO’s “Barry” would never work in 1.5 speed. The ability to change the speed of a TV show will only add to the culture of instant gratification produced by streaming.
I understand the appeal of being able to get through as many shows as possible in a shorter amount of time. I have, on occasion, skipped parts of an episode to get to parts that I really wanted to see.
There is an appeal, but does anyone really need to speed watch “Gilmore Girls”? What is so bad about taking in a show the way that it was meant to be seen in the time it was supposed to take to get through it? It’s a better experience when one takes longer to watch a show, even if it’s seven seasons and a revival, like “Gilmore Girls.”
Now that Disney and Apple have started streaming, and NBC and WarnerMedia plan to do the same, the number of shows to stream keeps going up. In the near future, audiences are going to be even more overwhelmed over what they have seen and, more importantly, what they haven’t seen.
Following backlash, Netflix posted a statement on their blog addressing the possibility of the new feature. The statement mentioned that the feature was “frequently requested” as it could be helpful for viewers to watch a scene they love, a foreign film or TV show in slower time.
Many want to vehemently raise their pitchforks at Netflix, but isn’t it more the fault of the audience that Netflix would even have to entertain this new feature? The introduction of streaming TV has created a culture of “binge-watching.” It promotes watching each show just to finish it and move on, without taking the time to relish in the thoughtful production or masterful acting.
I’m verging on a “back in my day…” argument, so I’ll backtrack. I love watching shows on streaming platforms, and I love even more that I no longer have to wait a week to find out what happens. I just think it was less stressful and that there was less instant gratification when waiting a week was the only option.
The podcast “Lovett or Leave It”’s recent episode, “Catch Marry Kill,” summed the new feature up in its “rant wheel” segment, and I couldn’t have said it better myself. Jon Lovett, the host of the podcast, said: “If you need to watch your TV shows faster to get through more of them, turn off the television, put the phone down, go outside, take 10 deep breaths …”
I can understand why Netflix came up with the idea for this feature. But I also think we all need to slow down.
Claire DuMont SC ’23 is one of TSL’s TV columnists and is from Manhattan Beach, California. She loves her dogs, cats and talking about TV (obviously); her current favorite show is “Daybreak.”