Netflix trialling variable playback speed highlights the depressing drive behind the streaming service

The streaming giant confirmed Android tests will enable viewers to slow down shows to 0.5x or speed them up to as much as 1.5x

Netflix

Netflix has confirmed the trialling of variable playback speed on Android devices which will enable members to speed up and slow down content.

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With several video and podcast players already offering the service, it’s not surprising that Netflix has moved the feature to testing phase, but this marks a further step in a sad direction.

When it comes to the visual arts, we no longer ‘watch a film’ or ‘tune in to a show’, we consume content. At least, that’s how Netflix sees it. And we don’t just consume, in fact, we binge. We’ve all been guilty of curling up under the duvet and re-emerging several hours and a whole series later, leaving Netflix rubbing its hands with glee. It’s enabling us.

Television series are becoming packed with more episodes which in turn are getting longer in length. Whether we’re watching every frame or just playing something in the background, Netflix wants us to stream more. Increasingly, there’s less emphasis on the art, more on the constant consumption.

The potential roll out of variable playback speed is a further extension of this. Afterall, let’s face it, Netflix isn’t introducing this feature so film lovers can slow the pace right down and catch every detail of that gorgeous long take. They’re doing it so people lacking in patience can hit ‘1.5x’ and rattle through the latest Netflix Original.

The new trial hints at an upsetting future for film and television, where the craft of storytelling falls by the wayside in favour of cutting to the chase of a narrative. First, we were given the whole series in one go. Then we were given the ‘skip intro’ button and the option to scrap the end credits (because who cares whose talent went into making this, anyway?) Now, we don’t even need to wait to find out how a plot unravels – we can just speed the whole thing up.

With the test being run exclusively on Android devices, Netflix is likely to see a demand for variable playback speed. This trial isn’t targeting the section of the market wanting to watch a film on the big TV in their living room, but more likely mobile users watching on the go who could benefit from speeding up the action so they can finish their episode before the train reaches their stop.

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It’s only an additional feature and, of course, people who don’t want to use it don’t have to. It does, however, indicate the depressing drive behind the streaming service that so many of us use.