Netflix Launches Variable-Speed Playback on Android Mobile App

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Netflix will now let all users of its Android app play back video at different rates — ranging from half-speed to 1.5 times faster — a feature that elicited a strongly negative response from some Hollywood creators when the streamer began testing it out last fall.

According to Netflix’s Keela Robison, VP of product innovation, the variable-speed playback was “well received” by customers and a frequently requested feature. She also pointed out that such features have been available on DVRs and DVD players for years.

That said, she noted in a blog post announcing the rollout of the feature on Android, “Features like skip intro, play next episode and variable playback speeds can be sensitive within the creative community so we are always careful to test them first and listen carefully to the feedback.”

Among those who weighed in on Netflix’s test last year — and voiced objections — were Judd Apatow, Aaron Paul, and Brad Bird. “That’s not how it works. Distributors don’t get to change the way the content is presented,” Apatow tweeted. “Doing so is a breaking of trust and won’t be tolerated by the people who provide it.”

To address such concerns, Netflix said, it capped the range of playback speeds (to no slower than 0.5 times normal speed, and no faster than 1.5X). In addition, the feature will require that users select which speed they want to play back video each time they watch something new, as opposed to letting them set a default nonstandard playback speed.

Meanwhile, Netflix’s Robison said, the company conducted “extensive surveys” of customers in several countries that found that their perceptions of content quality were not affected by the speed at which they watched the titles.

The variable-speed feature will be available in Netflix’s Android app, and the company will start to test it on iOS and the web next. The Playback Speed control lets users choose among normal speed, to slower (0.5X or 0.75X) or faster (1.25X and 1.5X).

According to Robison, the variable-speed playback capability received support from the National Association of the Deaf and the National Federation of the Blind.

“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),” she wrote in the blog.

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