Netflix Responds To Backlash Over New Playback Speed Feature

The Irishman Al Pacino testifies in court

As if Netflix wasn’t already in enough of a war with major movie theaters and other streaming services, it's now gone and stoked the fires that separate it from filmmakers who feel the brand is harmful to the film industry. The latest fight is over a controversial playback speed feature that the streaming service is testing out, and after the initial wave of uproar, Netflix has now responded with a two-pronged case for its recent testing and why it’s not as bad as some have made it out to be.

Netflix’s Vice President Keela Robison began her defense of the practice with the following caveat:

This is a mobile only test and gives people the ability to vary the speed at which they watch on phones or tablets - choosing from normal to slower (0.5X or 0.75X) or faster (1.25X and 1.5X). It’s a feature that has long been available on DVD players - and has been frequently requested by our members. For example, people looking to rewatch their favorite scene or wanting to go slower because it’s a foreign language title.

What’s interesting to note in Keela Robison’s response to directors like Judd Apatow, Brad Bird and Peter Ramsey, who have slammed the new and experimental playback speed feature, is not only does she cite that home video players have had such controls for quite some time, this is supposedly a feature that fans have been requesting.

On that basis, while the re-watching of a favorite scene can easily be achieved through the standard rewinding feature, the example of a foreign language title using playback speed to help viewers keep track of what’s going on seems like a better fit. So while this feature doesn’t sound as good if you’re trying to re-watch your favorite moments from Murder Mystery, it does sound like it's immensely helpful to someone who may be trying to read subtitles that fly by a little too fast on a film made in a foreign language.

Though there is one other big stipulation as to what Netflix has been doing, and that’s the fact that these tests have only been conducted on the studio’s mobile device platform. What’s more, this was another conscious choice that was made by Netflix, as announced in its entire rebuttal, which continues thusly:

We’ve been sensitive to creator concerns and haven’t included bigger screens, in particular TVs, in this test. We’ve also automatically corrected the pitch in the audio at faster and slower speeds. In addition, members must choose to vary the speed each time they watch something new - versus Netflix maintaining their settings based on their last choice. We have no plans to roll any of these tests out in the short term. And whether we introduce these features for everyone at some point will depend on the feedback we receive.

Much like that time when Hollywood took up arms over television manufacturers and their default settings for Motion Smoothing on TVs, Netflix and Tinseltown have come to loggerheads over something that, at least for now, is merely in the testing phases. What happens after this point is going to be something to watch, as there’s a distinct possibility that consumers are actually driving this issue. Should that be the case, Netflix will find its entire leadership facing the ultimate question: do they make the move pleasing consumers or filmmakers?

We’ll see what happens in the future, but for now, if you’re curious to see Netflix’s latest film offering in a theatrical setting, at standard playback speed, The Irishman opens in limited theaters this Friday. Try to imagine that movie at a third of the speed.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.