Noah Brier | November 4, 2019

Why is this interesting? - The 1.5x Edition

On Netflix, podcasts, and sped-up playback

Noah here. You may have seen some news (and even more backlash) that Netflix is testing a speed-up feature. Not any different than what you’d find in a podcast app or on YouTube, the feature allows you to speed up or slow down what you’re watching. Actors and filmmakers are freaking out about it, as it’s clearly not how they intended for their creation to be consumed. 

As Netflix explained in a response, “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.”

Why is this interesting?

I’m a 1.5x-er. I listen to every podcast at that speed, try to do audiobooks there, and even watch most YouTube videos (certainly lectures) between 50- and 100-percent faster. Part of it is a desire to take in more, part of it is that many public speakers talk way to slow for my taste (this is the case for speeding up YouTube lectures), and another part is that once you start speeding things up people’s voices sound very strange at normal speed. (Once in a while I’ll hear Bill Simmons talk normally and be shocked.)

In most of these cases, I’m seeking some education. That’s certainly the case with the lectures, but it’s also partly true of podcasts. I love learning new things and although I might lose some of the storytelling art at higher speeds, the style and substance still come through for me just fine. While I’m incredibly appreciative of the amazing work these producers do, it’s more radio and less art from my perspective. That’s also the case for speeding up on Netflix. Per Engadget:

While I can understand why film purists would find variable playback deplorable, it's worth considering that most of Netflix's content isn't exactly high art. It's a service filled with bingeable TV shows, so it makes sense to give viewers faster ways to get their media fix. And the slowdown features sound genuinely useful for replaying certain scenes, like the complex fight choreography in Daredevil. At the end of the day, this isn't necessarily a crime against cinema like motion smoothing, a feature that's widely deployed on TVs by default. If it does get implemented, variable playback speeds will be something Netflix users can actually choose to use -- or not.

When you go a little deeper things get even more interesting. As it is the way we consume movies is a far cry from the way they were intended. People go to the movies less and less, instead opting to watch films on their super-high-definition televisions. Those televisions are equipped with “motion smoothing”, which automatically adds frames for the purpose of making sports look great in HD. The side effect, as anyone who’s tried to watch a movie lately, can attest, is that Mission Impossible can look more like a soap opera than an action movie. Things are bad enough that Tom Cruise put on a PSA to encourage people to switch off motion interpolation. Even your TV shows might be faster than they were meant to: While hardly 1.5x, TBS was found to have been speeding up Seinfeld reruns by 7% (1.07x) to add more commercial time.

In the end, I’m generally pro-consumer choice, even at the expense of some artistry. More interesting, though, is how this will affect the producers themselves. As audio producer John Lagomarsino wrote in 2015 for The Verge, “As a podcast producer, the popularity of speed ramping has started affecting how I think of production. Should hosts speak more slowly to counteract it? Should I lean on a music bed to trick SmartSpeed into keeping the pace unaltered? As these features become more popular, they could hold back experimentation in audio.” (NRB)

Diamond of the Day:

From artist Diemut Strebe, it’s a $2 million diamond painted with a carbon nanotube coating that absorbs 99.996% of the light that touches it. It’s ten-times blacker than anything before it, including Vantablack. Mentioned this in WITI 9/20 - The Utopia Edition and was reminded of it by a recent New Yorker Talk of the Town piece. (NRB)

Quick Links:

  • Unfortunately Friday’s David Lynch link took you to a toothbrush article, not a bunch of amazingly weird David Lynch commercials. Sorry about that. Here’s the correct link and, if you’re a designer out there reading this, please stop changing URLs on people when they scroll. It’s annoying. (NRB)

  • How Aesop made its brand via distribution (CJN)

  • Loving this indie CPG newsletter from Amrit Richmond (CJN)

Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).

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