There are plenty of reasons to get behind Netflix’s new variable playback speed settings, but “let viewers bend time to their will” isn’t one of them.
The new feature, which the company started testing back at the end of 2019, has started rolling out in the Android version of the app. It lets viewers tweak the speed of what they’re watching, to make it go either slower (0.5x and 0.75x speed) or faster (1.25x and 1.5x speed).
While it’s only out for Android right now, Netflix intends to test the feature for eventual release on iOS and the web as well. A blog update notes that the decision to introduce variable speed settings was made carefully. Pointing to earlier add-on features like Skip Intro and Play Next Episode, the post acknowledges that options like these “can be sensitive within the creative community.”
The decision to move forward with letting users tweak speed settings, then, is based on a number of factors. Not only is this a feature of DVD players and DVR, Netflix notes, but having the ability to slow something down in particular can be helpful to various viewers.
“The National Association of the Deaf and the National Federation of the Blind have both welcomed this feature,” the post reads. “People who are deaf and have difficulty reading appreciate the option of slowing down the captioning, and people who are hard of hearing value the ability to listen at slower speeds – while many individuals who are vision impaired are used to listening to digital audio much faster (for example with screen readers).”
The stats-averse Netflix even shares some numbers around viewing habits. According to the company, 80 percent of subscribers use subtitles or closed captions at least once per month. What’s more, “U.S. viewing of non-English titles” has gone up more than 33 percent over the past two years.
The National Federation of the Blind board member Everette Bacon applauded the move in a statement.
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. We see value in allowing playback speed control for individuals who are blind or who have other ability differences. While adjusting speed is unlikely to be chosen for every title, enabling audiences to do so will broaden a title’s reach and appeal by allowing more people to enjoy and appreciate it. 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. We encourage other studios and streaming platforms to consistently create audio descriptions to broaden their audiences as well.
In a nod to the concerns of creators, Netflix requires the speed settings to be changed on a per-watch basis. Look for the new feature to arrive in your Android app soon if it hasn’t already.
UPDATE: Aug. 2, 2020, 12:28 p.m. EDT Added a statement from the National Federation of the Blind.