Why do people watch shows speeded up?
MARCH 20 — Sometime last year, I was on the train when I saw a boy next to me watching the Korean zombie thriller-drama, Kingdom, on his phone.
What struck me (as I covertly took longer glances at his screen and tried to follow the dialogue) is that he had set the speed of the show to be faster than normal (probably 1.5x or even 2x).
Hence the characters were speaking in that high-pitched cartoonish sound and the movements had that jerky feel to them.
Imagine my surprise as the boy continued watching his show at this speed for the duration of the journey (easily half a dozen stops or more) and doing so as if it was absolutely natural.
When I reached my university, I related this episode to my class and asked if any of them did the same... more than half said they too watch films and TV shows that way.
As someone who’s been watching movies and TV shows for the better part of four decades, I was a little stunned by this revelation.
To this day I can’t fully wrap my head around the fact that many people (usually young adults and teens) do not regularly watch shows at the speed their directors intended them to.
I mean, certainly for decades people have been clicking the fast-forward button each time they want to skip ahead.
But today’s phenomenon is not about viewers wanting to jump ahead to some targeted scene; the boy on the train was “enjoying” the fast-forwarded show the way I would normally enjoy any movie played at regular speed.
In fact, I suspect that viewers like him would NOT enjoy the film or show as much if it was played at regular speed.
After chatting with some of my students, I realised that one of the reasons why a show’s normal speed is too slow for many is — surprise, surprise — this preference for rapidity (or the more charitable way of saying impatience) among many of today’s viewers over other values.
Nowadays there are simply too many top-notch TV series and movies out there, so this perspective goes, that to watch a standard 10-episode season (at roughly an hour per episode) would take up more time than such folks are willing to give up.
In a sense, maybe the preference for post-normal speed-viewing falls along the same spectrum as fast food, instant coffee, faster micro-chip processing, etc.
With modernity comes a desire for rapidity; the TLDR mentality reigns supreme. Why should entertainment be substantially different, right?
A second reason to finish a 10-hour series within, say, eight hours is the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) feeling i.e. I need to finish this quickly before my friends spoil the ending for me or before my gang starts yapping about this series with me not knowing the key talking points!
Hence, closely related to this need for speed is that of pre-checking YouTube for spoilers or “Here’s What You Missed About Episode 5” even as you’re going through the series.
The result is that many viewers today, awashed in a high-tempo digital culture of Now and Faster and raised on immediately gratifying micro-movies like gifs and what TikTok offers, are psychologically conditioned to “race” each other to whatever cinematic finish lines are drawn, rendering them unable to sit through standard lengths of film productions.
The desire and demand to reach the end is too much and no director can compete with this yearning for shows which finish faster than intended (see note 1).
Even if Tarantino produced a seven-minute movie, today’s viewers would want to reach the end before the sixth minute.
Nowadays there are simply too many top-notch TV series and movies out there, so this perspective goes, that to watch a standard 10-episode season would take up more time than such folks are willing to give up. — Unsplash pic
Slow/normal is beautiful
Far be it for me to judge how someone else wishes to experience their entertainment. As far as I’m concerned, people can watch The Last Of Us at five times the speed if that rocks their boat.
Nevertheless, I feel I simply must issue the reminder that there are gems and moments of pure delight which can only be fully experienced when one watches a movie at its intended speed.
Watching any movie in fast-forward mode will effectively remove the emotional nuances in a film, not to mention the damaging effect on dialogue and visuals.
Appreciating a movie isn’t simply about knowing what happened but about admiring the acting, the camera work, the conversations, etc.
Even as I write this, I suspect it won’t make a difference. It’s not as if those who speed-watch shows don’t know that such a habit diminishes the viewing experience — they also very likely do not care if it does, as they have greater priorities in mind i.e. to finish the episode as fast as possible.
Ultimately, I guess this is a symptom of a huge generational gap. One I’ll never understand, and probably wouldn’t want to (as I close my Word document and get back to watching The Mandalorian Season 3).
Note 1: I recall, back in secondary school, I knew this girl who — each time she got a new novel — would immediately turn to the back of the book to find out the ending before starting the book. When we asked her why, she said she didn’t want to be kept in suspense as she read. Perhaps today’s hyper-viewing habit mirrors this?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.