Sign up FAST! Login

I have found a new way to watch TV, and it changes everything: Speed watching.

Stashed in: Brain, Awesome, Are You Not Entertained?, Netflix, Telly

To save this post, select a stash from drop-down menu or type in a new one:

Speed watchers watch at 1.5x to 2x speeds.

IHAVE a habit that horrifies most people. I watch television and films in fast forward. This has become increasingly easy to do with computers (I’ll show you how) and the time savings are enormous. Four episodes of "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" fit into an hour. An entire season of "Game of Thrones" goes down on the bus ride from D.C. to New York.

I started doing this years ago to make my life more efficient. Between trendy Web shows, auteur cable series, and BBC imports, there’s more to watch than ever before. Some TV execs worry that the industry is outpacing its audience. A record-setting 412 scripted series ran in 2015, nearly double the number in 2009.

“There is simply too much television,” FX Networks CEO John Landgraf said last year. Nonsense, responded Netflix content chief Ted Sarandos, who has been commissioning shows at a startling rate. “There’s no such thing as too much TV,” he said.

So here we are, spending three hours a day on average, scrambling to keep up with the Kardashians, the Starks, the Underwoods, and the dozens of others on the roster of must-watch TV, which has exploded in the age of fragmented audiences. Nowadays, to stay on the same wavelength with your different groups of friends — the ones hating on “Meat Chad” and the ones cooing over Khaleesi — you have to watch in bulk.

This is where the trick of playing videos at 1.5x to 2x comes in — the latest twist in the millennia-old tradition of technology changing storytelling.

The concept should be familiar to many. For years, podcast and audiobook players have provided speedup options, and research shows that most people prefer listening to accelerated speech.

In recent years, software has made it much easier to perform the same operation on videos. This was impossible for home viewers in the age of VHS. But computers can now easily speed up any video you throw at them. You can play DVDs and iTunes purchases at whatever tempo you like. YouTube allows you select a speedup factor on its player. And a Google engineer has written a popular Chrome extension that accelerates most other Web videos, including on Netflix, Vimeo and Amazon Prime.

Over 100,000 people have downloaded that plug-in, and the reviews are ecstatic. “Oh my God! I regret all the wasted time I've lived before finding this gem!!” one user wrote.

Foulke suspected that beyond 300 wpm, deeper processes in the brain were getting overloaded.

Experiments showed that at 300-400 wpm, individual words were still clear enough to understand; except at that rate, many listeners couldn’t keep up with rapid stream of words, likely because their short-term memories were overtaxed.

Some, of course, fared better than others. Just as people naturally read at different rates, subjects varied in how well they could understand accelerated speech. Further studies found a connection to cognitive ability. Those with higher intelligence, as well as faster readers, were more adept at understanding sped-up recordings. (The NSA once considered using tests involving accelerated speech to screen for people who could become morse code operators.)

The most startling discovery, though, was that people actually enjoy listening to accelerated audio. Foulke and his colleagues noticed that college students preferred recordings that had been sped up by 30 percent, from 175 wpm to 222 wpm. More recent studies find that, given the choice, people will increase playback rate by about 40 to 50 percent on average — a 1.4 to 1.5x speedup.

This tendency extends to video as well, as experiments with video lectures and even Discovery Channel shows have shown. Increasing the tempo of a recording seems to stave off boredom and help people stay engaged. “With the slower pace, my attention span actually wavered, and I focused on too much detail,” one subject told researchers at Microsoft.

You May Also Like: