Binge Faster

According to a report on The Verge, Netflix is testing a way for its users to watch shows and movies at double-speed. Some people associated with the movie industry are pushing back. The report includes a quote from director Brad Bird that captures the sentiment:

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

“Destroy the presentation” sounds like an exaggeration. But in cinema, timing is critical. Directors, actors, and editors obsess over getting the pacing of scenes and dialog just right. Giving users the ability to speed everything up can ruin the intended effect. So why would Netflix do this? Per the report, “it’s a heavily requested feature from subscribers.”

I’m not surprised. In our era of binge-watching (driven in part by Netflix) and shortening attention spans, speeding up shows would allow users to watch more. I can relate to the sentiment. I listen to a lot of audiobooks, and often I’ll do so at 2x or sometimes even 2.5x the regular speed. As a result, I can read more in less time.

Not all books work well when sped up; some I can only listen to at 1x. Mostly, the “slow” ones are books I want to savor — either because the story is gripping, or I’m enjoying the narrator’s performance. Case in point: I’m currently listening to the Sherlock Holmes stories read by Stephen Fry. The audiobook is almost 63 hours long, and I’ve read all of it at 1x; anything else would ruin Mr. Fry’s terrific performance.

Books that work well when sped up are the ones I read “for work” instead of “for pleasure.” (In quotes because this isn’t a hard distinction for me.) The main challenge with these is taking notes whenever something interesting comes up. This is harder to do when listening fast. But in these cases, I’m looking for information, not performance. So faster speeds work for me.

Now, you could argue that people watch shows on Netflix (and other streaming services) mostly “for pleasure.” But why not leave it up to them to determine how they want to listen? It’s not like everyone would be forced to watch at higher speeds; it’s just a new choice.

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