Prominent names in the film and TV industries speak out against Netflix's proposed variable playback feature. News of this broke earlier in the week, when it was announced the streaming giant was testing the feature that allows users to slow down content to 0.5x or 0.75x speed, or increase the playback rate at 1.25x or 1.5x speed. Right now, this is just in the beta phase, and may not become a permanent addition to Netflix.
After dominating the streaming landscape for years, Netflix is about to face stiff competition from a variety of upcoming services, including Disney+, Apple TV+, and HBO Max. With the streaming wars heating up and new platforms offering a bevy of anticipated and fan-favorite content, Netflix is probably looking at everything they can do to stay ahead. Variable playback is something they felt was worth exploring, but they've drawn the ire of acclaimed filmmakers and actors.
On Twitter, actor Aaron Paul (whose Netflix film El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie has been viewed over 25 million times), and directors Judd Apatow and Peyton Reed voiced their displeasures with Netflix considering a variable playback feature. Take a look at their posts in the space below:
Stop. As the person talked about in this article I felt the need to speak out. There is NO WAY @netflix will move forward with this. That would mean they are completely taking control of everyone else’s art and destroying it. Netflix is far better than that. Am I right Netflix?🎥 https://t.co/fZDnYzvStN— Aaron Paul (@aaronpaul_8) October 28, 2019
No @Netflix no. Don’t make me have to call every director and show creator on Earth to fight you on this. Save me the time. I will win but it will take a ton of time. Don’t fuck with our timing. We give you nice things. Leave them as they were intended to be seen. https://t.co/xkprLM44oC— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) October 28, 2019
While the public outcry was immediate, not everyone in Hollywood was angered by the potential playback possibility. Comedy Central writer and comedian Jono Zalay humorously responded to Apatow's tweet over the Netflix controversy:
If Apatow didn't want his movies watched at 1.5x speed he shouldn't have made them at 1.5x length. https://t.co/ikZY7RDsXK— Jon-o-lantern ZalaWEEN 😕 (@JonoZalay) October 29, 2019
So far, variable playback is a mobile-only test that's only available for some android users. In a company blog post, Netflix Vice President Keela Robinson elaborated on the situation, explaining the feature is similar to Blu-ray and DVD players, and is something that's been commonly requested by users. The idea is to see if it can help improve the Netflix experience for consumers. Robinson said in the statement they're aware of "creator concerns" about the new feature, and if it is introduced to other users depends "on the feedback we receive." Based on the initial returns, it looks like most of that feedback is negative. It's understandable why some viewers would want to have this option available, but creatives have raised excellent points regarding artistic integrity. They would prefer Netflix let the content be presented as intended, without compromising their vision they spend a long time curating.
It'll be interesting to see how this story develops. Netflix was quick to respond to the fallout after receiving pushback from well-known names, which could impact their future decision making. A case can be made Netflix would risk losing the opportunity to work with high-profile filmmakers like Apatow and Reed down the line if they stick with the variable playback experiment and roll it out to more users. That would be a big blow for Netflix, especially as they're carving out a niche for producing auteur-driven Oscar contenders like Roma and The Irishman. They have to be careful with how they proceed, since there will be no shortage of other platforms directors could take their work to.