How do you watch Netflix? If you live in the US, Canada or Australia, you probably primarily watch your favourite shows or movies on your TV — or at the very least a laptop — but thanks to features like offline viewing and more generous mobile data plans, mobile usage has increased. This is especially true in markets such as India, South Korea and Japan. The challenge, however, is that nearly every TV show or movie you watch on Netflix was designed to be viewed on a larger screen.
But that could change. At a media briefing in San Francisco on Thursday, Netflix's chief product officer Neil Hunt told the Verge, "It's not inconceivable that you could take a master [copy] and make a different cut for mobile," adding that, "it's something we will explore over the next few years."
The thought, it seems, is that there could be different versions of a film or TV show, depending on what device it's viewed on. Imagine you have a super wide shot that's designed to look great on a 55-inch TV — on a smartphone, it's going to be much harder to see. It might make more sense for that to be a panned shot for someone watching the content on a 5.5-inch screen.
Frankly, as long as the creators are involved with creating these "multiple cuts", optimising content for mobile is a good and long overdue idea. Content creation should to align with how people are consuming that content.
Of course, some people aren't thrilled with the idea of creating work for smaller screens. Nearly a decade ago, famed auteur David Lynch ranted about viewers watching films on their "fucking iPhone", lamenting that the it was "such a sadness" and that those viewers were "cheated" out of the experience of actually enjoying a film. Lynch made similar remarks in 2013, calling the act of watching a movie on a phone screen "pathetic". And in 2015, Spike Lee called the idea that people would watch films such as Star Wars or West Side Story on a smartphone "heartbreaking".
From a purely artistic perspective, this could be true, but the reality is that in 2017, people watch movies and TV shows on their phones. And that isn't going to stop; it's going to increase. Moreover, plenty of other industries already adapt content to specific platforms: A big theme in media over the last decade, for example, has been repackaging content and presenting it in different formats.
If handled the right way — ideally, you could opt-out of the "mobile" experience, if such a version existed — this could be a boon for creators to get more inventive with content, as well as viewers who primarily consume that content on smaller devices. Of course, it's also possible that the creators could be left out of the process altogether. (This has happened before: Ted Turner famously "colourised" classic black and white films in the 1980s as a way to try to make them more palatable to the public.)
Hopefully, if Netflix is serious about this plan, it will work with its creators to make the experience better for everyone.