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Netflix confirms it's adding playback speed controls to its Android app

After testing the feature last year, it's finally getting a full debut.
Devindra Hardawar, @devindra
July 31, 2020
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Netflix variable playback speed
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Starting tomorrow, Netflix will let some Android users control the playback speeds of their videos, The Verge reports. The feature, which will roll out to more Android subscribers over the next few weeks, will let users slow down videos with 0.5x or 0.75x playback speeds, or speed things up with 1.25x and 1.5x options. Netflix also plans to test it on iOS and the web soon (there’s no mention of TVs or set-top boxes).

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Netflix faced plenty of criticism from Hollywood last year when it started testing variable playback. The company defended the feature in October, and at the time said it didn’t have any plans to launch it. But I guess a lot can change over 9 months.

While director Judd Apatow and others were worried that variable playback can distort their art, Netflix VP Keela Robison says that it tried to be respectful of the creative community by capping fast-forward speeds to 1.5x. YouTube, in comparison, lets you double the speed of whatever you’re watching. Netflix’s variable playback settings also need to be enabled manually for every video, so you won’t be stuck watching everything in an altered speed by accident.

“We’ve decided to press ahead for several reasons,” Robison wrote in a blog post. “Similar functionality has been available on DVD players and DVRs for years and the feature has been much requested by members. Most important of all, our tests show that consumers value the flexibility it provides whether it’s rewatching their favorite scene or slowing things down because they’re watching with subtitles or have hearing difficulties.”

She also noted that surveys of users testing the feature didn’t perceive the content any differently (though I’d argue that would be tough to tell). Now I can understand the uproar over changing playback speeds, but it’s hard to fault Netflix for adding a feature that many consumers expect. In addition to YouTube, plenty of podcast listeners speed up their shows.

And, as I mentioned back in October, it’s not as if every Netflix show is a work of art that needs to be savored. I have a feeling I’d enjoy The Umbrella Academy, or plenty of Netflix’s genre offerings, a lot more if I could speed through the dull parts.

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