Netflix's latest innovation has sparked controversy – here's why

·6-min read
Photo credit: Lewis Jacobs - AMC
Photo credit: Lewis Jacobs - AMC

From Digital Spy

The evolution of Netflix across its 23-year history is extraordinary.

What initially began as a DVD rental company is now top dog in the video streaming hierarchy, with the service available in more than 140 countries.

As of April 2020, Netflix was worth $194 billion according to Forbes, which makes the entertainment giant "more valuable" than Disney.

We'll let you sit with that for just a second.

Netflix's core approach remains the same (spend, spend, spend), but it has continued to experiment ever since its inception to deliver what it believes its subscribers want.

Those innovative endeavours, however, don't always go down well with the creatives whose work it features on its platform.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

It was recently reported by The Verge that Android mobile users will be able to speed up or slow down its content, a feature that Netflix began experimenting with back in 2019.

"As with any test, it may not become a permanent feature," a spokesperson told Android Police.

But evidently, the company felt that it would be a big tick in its favour among its users.

If you fancy picking up the pace, you can opt for 1.25x or 1.5x. Or, if you'd like to really soak up the atmosphere and take things a little slower, you can select 0.5x or 0.75x instead.

It should be noted that it won't automatically set every film and TV show to the speed that you select, instead requiring you to adjust it manually.

There are now plans to test the feature on iOS devices and Netflix's web version of its app. The TV app is not currently part of that conversation.

Photo credit: Future Publishing - Getty Images
Photo credit: Future Publishing - Getty Images

A number of creatives voiced their concerns about the pitfalls of such a feature when it hit headlines last year, bemoaning what such a decision could mean for how viewers receive their work.

Those who are involved in crafting television or films will happily spend the best part of an afternoon talking about their "process": choices are never haphazard, bar a handful of happy accidents, but painstakingly mapped out for maximum effect.

To meddle with the pacing, condensing or elongating the original material is, for this lot, a slap in the face.

"There is NO WAY Netflix will move forward with this," said Breaking Bad and El Camino's Aaron Paul (via The Wrap). "That would mean they are completely taking control of everyone else's art and destroying it. Netflix is far better than that. Am I right Netflix.

"I am honestly praising Netflix as a company. Don't listen to the media. Rumours are a funny thing. I love Netflix. Always have. Always will. This simply can not be true. That is all. No way will they destroy the art they have on their platform. Plain and simple."

Photo credit: Gregg DeGuire / Stringer - Getty Images
Photo credit: Gregg DeGuire / Stringer - Getty Images

"No Netflix no," wrote Judd Apatow (The King of Staten Island, The 40-Year-Old Virgin) on Twitter. "Don't make me have to call every director and show creator on Earth to fight you on this. Save me the time. I will win but it will take a ton of time. Don't f**k with our timing. We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen."

Ant-Man director Peyton Reed said: "Dear Netflix, this is a terrible idea, and I and every director I know will fight against it."

"Whelp– another spectacularly bad idea, and another cut to the already bleeding-out cinema experience," tweeted Brad Bird (The Incredibles, Ratatouille). "Why support & finance filmmakers visions on one hand and then work to destroy the presentation of those films on the other???"

Peter Ramsey (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Rise of the Guardians) took a slightly different approach: "Do "customers" want to eat or have sex 1.5x faster too? Are they right? Does everything have to be designed for the laziest and most tasteless?"

But clearly, Netflix has taken on their comments and... pushed ahead anyway.

A spokesperson told The Verge that "capping the range of playback speeds and requiring members to vary the speed each time they watch something new" demonstrates that they are "mindful of the concerns of some creators".

Netflix's vice president of product innovation, Keela Robison, was also keen to make it known just how important the Netflix subscriber base is to the company's decision-making.

Photo credit: Adam Rose/Netflix
Photo credit: Adam Rose/Netflix

"The feature has been much requested by members for years," she told The Verge. "Most important of all, our tests show that consumers value the flexibility it provides whether it's rewatching their favourite scene or slowing things down because they're watching with subtitles or have hearing difficulties."

The CEO of the National Association of the Deaf told The Verge that it can useful for deaf people, who will be given the option to receive captions and subtitles at a more leisurely pace.

A board member from the National Federation of the Blind said that individuals in the blind community "can understand and appreciate audio played at a much faster pace than what might be comfortable for most sighted people".

There are myriad conversations happening at the moment about considering experiences that lie out of the parameters of your own experience, and this would certainly tie into that.

But whether it will stick around for the long haul depends entirely on the feedback from its subscribers. If they don't like it, they will, as ever, make their feelings known.

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