| October 30, 2019 02:07 PM
Netflix pioneered binge-watching in 2013, when it began the revolutionary trend of releasing entire series on its platform, rather than rolling out new episodes each week.
That year, Netflix released the first seasons of Arrested Development, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black. Critics praised the latter especially as imminently bingeable.
“At 13 episodes, you can finish the first season of Orange Is the New Black in less than 24 hours — and we recommend that you do watch at some point, if not all in one day,” wrote a critic at Mashable. “This is the show that will make you excited about the future of streaming content.”
Fast forward several years later, and binge culture has exploded. No longer a foreign concept, watching several episodes of a show in one sitting is now more default than guilty pleasure.
While Netflix doesn’t usually release data on how viewers watch its shows, it did reveal this summer that OITNB is its most-watched original show, with 105 million households watching at least one episode. The streaming platform has had much success with its original shows, including the wildly popular series Stranger Things.
Its latest concession to consumers, though, may take binge culture one step too far.
The company is testing an option to allow viewers to watch their mobile content slowed down (0.5X or 0.75X) or sped up (1.25X and 1.5X). Need to catch up on that show your friends have already finished, but don’t have the time? Just watch it faster!
Unsurprisingly, voices in cinema were horrified by the idea.
“Don’t make me have to call every director and show creator on Earth to fight you on this,” tweeted Judd Apatow, the director of Knocked Up and co-creator of the Netflix show Love. “Don’t f–k with our timing. We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen.”
Peter Ramsey, director of Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, offered an equally livid reply: “Do ‘customers’ want to eat or have sex 1.5x faster too? Are they right? Does everything have to be designed for the laziest and most tasteless?”
Netflix, however, maintains that the function wouldn’t be for impatient viewers.
“It’s a feature that has long been available on DVD players — and has been frequently requested by our members,” Vice President Keela Robison wrote. “For example, people looking to rewatch their favorite scene or wanting to go slower because it’s a foreign language title.”
The new idea has not yet been fully implemented, but directors likely won’t buy Netflix’s explanation. If you want to re-watch your favorite scene, why not do so at a normal pace? Foreign language films have subtitles. There’s no need to damage art by messing with pacing.
Brad Bird, who directed The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, called it a “spectacularly bad idea” and “another cut to the already bleeding-out cinema experience.”
“Why support & finance filmmakers’ visions on one hand and then work to destroy the presentation of those films on the other?” he asked.
Netflix, now struggling to keep up with other streaming platforms as it loses binge-watching favorites Friends and The Office, will need to continue to innovate to keep up with the insatiable need for content that it helped create. But messing with artistic preference by allowing consumers to tailor content to their whims is not the innovation it needs.
It has already been at war with Steven Spielberg over his belief that films should show longer in theaters in order to qualify for the Academy Awards. The company was right to maintain that the environment maketh not the movie. The pacing, however, is a different story, and this is a battle Netflix may not want to fight.