Netflix Playback Speed Controls Anger Hollywood

Directors, editors at odds with users that experience disabilities

Key Takeaways

  • Netflix now allows Android users to slow down or speed up playback.
  • Several prominent directors and editors have spoken out against the move.
  • National Association of the Deaf and National Federation of the Blind commend Netflix.
Netflix logo displayed on an iPhone in front of a television showing Netflix
Chesnot / Getty Images

Last fall, Netflix announced a test of its new playback speed control option, which allows consumers to speed up or slow down content when viewing on Android mobile devices. 

The creative community in Hollywood clapped back hard. Director Judd Apatow took to Twitter to denounce the idea.

“No. That’s not how it works. Distributors don’t get to change the way the content is presented. Doing so is breaking a trust and won’t be tolerated by the people who provide it. Let the people who don’t care put it in their contracts that they don’t care. Most all do,” he tweeted last October.

Netflix Debuts Playback Feature

On Aug. 1, Netflix rolled out the feature. The company has considered the feature for years and announced a beta test in October 2019. Subscribers who want to test out the new feature will have to manually enable it with every title they pick. 

To use the feature on Android, open the Netflix app, then choose something to watch. When playback begins, tap the screen to bring up playback controls, tap the Speedometer, then choose your preferred playback speed.

Netflix playback controls
Netflix

For users accessing Netflix via the web, there are browser extensions such as Video Speed Controller available on Chrome and Firefox. 

“This is totally disrespectful to the casts, crews, writers and directors who provide your content @netflix. Please don’t do this,” Bradley Whitford tweeted the day before the feature's launch.

Kate Sanford, editor of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, tweeted her opposition of the feature, saying, “I am an editor who works very hard in collaboration with filmmakers to set the intended pace. I am 100% against this feature. The work should be judged as intended.”

Hearing, Sight-Impaired Community Weighs In

Both the National Association of the Deaf and the National Federation of the Blind weighed in on the matter in emailed statements to Lifewire.

“For many years, content creators have opposed captioning on the dubious premise that it interfered with artistic vision,” said NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum. “This attitude persists today, unfortunately. The opposition to adjustable speed of viewing on a platform like Netflix does not make sense when one considers that many playback devices have for years had such features.”

Everette Bacon, a board member for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), concurred.

"Many people aren't aware that individuals who are blind or who have low vision enjoy video like Netflix, and that many people in this community can understand and appreciate audio played at a much faster pace than what might be comfortable for most sighted people," said Bacon. 

Bacon said NFB sees value in allowing playback speed control for the blind or people who have other impairments because it makes content available to a wider audience.

“We applaud Netflix for being a leader in accessibility and for working with us on this and also especially for providing audio descriptions for the blind for so many of its Netflix Originals.”

YouTube, Hulu, and Amazon Prime already feature some playback speed controls.

Netflix Addresses the Issue

Netflix, on its blog, addressed the Aug. 1 rollout.

“Following last year’s test, which was well received by our members, we’re rolling this feature out across Android mobile, and will start to test it on iOS and the Web. Playback Speed control enables members to choose from normal to slower (0.5X or 0.75X) or faster (1.25X and 1.5X) watch speeds on their phones, tablets, and laptops,” the company wrote.

Similar functionality has been available on DVD players and DVRs for years and its members have requested the feature. The company said testing revealed that consumers value the flexibility playback speed controls offer.

Choose playback speed on Netflix for Android
Netflix

Netflix also directly addressed concerns from the creative community.

“We’ve also been mindful of the concerns of some creators. 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 company said.

"It’s also worth noting that extensive surveys of members across several countries who watched the same titles with or without the feature showed it didn’t impact their perceptions of the content’s quality."

Netflix has emerged as the leader in global subscription video services, adding 15.7 million new subscribers in the first quarter of 2020 and touting 183 million global customers, according to CNBC.

For now, Netflix has taken the step to provide playback speed control to its vast number of worldwide subscribers. Some in the creative community have vowed to fight the development of playback speed controls. 

What comes next could possibly read like a Hollywood thriller, but who gets cast as the hero and who the villain is are both up in the air.