After Backlash, Netflix Won’t Offer Variable Play Times ‘In the Short Term’

Several creators call changing playback speed 'a terrible idea'

Phone showing Netflix speed times
Netflix said user feedback would affect whether the variable playback feature is rolled out platform-wide. Netflix

Netflix has no immediate plans to widely roll out a tool that would allow subscribers to watch programming at faster or slower speeds, one day after it faced a barrage of criticism from directors who said the tool would negatively affect their work.

The tool, which Netflix introduced as a mobile-only test, gave users the ability to change the speed at which they watched programming, either slowing it down as much as half-speed or speeding it up as much as 1.5 times. In a Tuesday morning blog post, Netflix’s vice president of product innovation Keela Robison said the service has “no plans to roll any of these tests out in the short term.”

First reported by Android Police on Oct. 28, the test isn’t a new concept in the entertainment world. Most DVD players and TiVo have features that allow viewers to watch programming at variable speeds, as does YouTube. It’s also a feature included in most apps for podcasts and audiobooks.

But the tool was received poorly among some directors and actors, who said the feature would ruin the intended viewing experience. Peyton Reed, who recently directed Ant-Man and the Wasp, and writer-director Judd Apatow, who co-created the Netflix comedy series Love, begged the streaming service not to implement the feature.

Don’t make me have to call every director and show creator on Earth to fight you on this,” Apatow tweeted. “Distributors don’t get to change the way the content is presented. Doing so is a breaking of trust and won’t be tolerated by the people who provide it.”

“This is a terrible idea, and I and every director I know will fight against it,” Reed tweeted.

Brad Bird, the director of Ratatouille and Incredibles 2, called the test a “spectacularly bad idea.”

“Why support & finance filmmakers visions on one hand and then work to destroy the presentation of those films on the other???” he tweeted.

Robison said Netflix had considered the test because it has been “frequently requested” by customers for purposes like rewatching certain scenes or wanting to slow programming down to read subtitles in a foreign language film.

“We’ve been sensitive to creator concerns and haven’t included bigger screens, in particular TVs, in this test,” she wrote. “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.”

Whether or not the tool does ultimately come to Netflix more broadly will depend, as it often does, on the feedback Netflix receives, Robison said.

@kelseymsutton Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.