Extreme binge watching: China’s youth are streaming at accelerated speeds to save time

Society & Culture

After putting up with unnecessarily long-winded TV shows on television for years, an increasing number of Chinese audiences, especially young viewers, are watching videos at accelerated speeds on streaming services in order to get through countless hours of content more efficiently, per a recent survey conducted by the Beijing News (in Chinese).

A poll of more than 200 people aged 18 to 40 found out that nearly 70 percent of the participants watch online content at accelerated speeds. Two main reasons cited are the excessive number of filler episodes in Chinese TV series, and scarcity of free time. The survey also discovered that even those who still stream things at a normal speed were positive about accelerated viewing, saying that they appreciated streaming sites offering high speed playback.

China-made TV shows and variety programs are the most common types of content watched at speed. Lǐ Jiā 李佳, a PR professional who responded to the survey, told the newspaper that she always watches domestic shows at accelerated speeds “because their pace is irritatingly slow!” She said that domestic shows love stretching content that can be delivered in one episode into three episodes, adding: “Wonder how slow they originally are? I found those characters finally talk at an acceptable speed when watching at one and a half times the normal viewing speed.”

Some respondents, especially young people, also mentioned that as their spare time has been significantly slashed by work, watching TV shows was no longer for entertainment. Instead, keeping track of what’s trending on television was a passive way to avoid being left out in casual chats at work. According to Ivy, a businesswoman, speed watching allows her to get a basic understanding of popular shows as fast as possible. “It’s important to have common interests to talk with coworkers. Popular TV shows can often be used as a good start of conversations,” she said.

However, this accelerated approach to TV consumption is not without backlash. Per the Beijing News, some internet users have raised concerns that speed-watching undermines the original intent of TV shows and consequently constitutes disrespect towards content creators. Some even went further, saying that this phenomenon had made young Chinese unable to practice patience. In response, Li Jia emphasized that speed-viewing was essentially a personal choice, and that she wouldn’t have resorted to it if TV producers in China had shown some respect to consumers. “Respect is a mutual thing. If content creators cared enough about us, they wouldn’t make stuff that requires speed-watching,” she said.

Commenting on the issue, Wú Dí 吴迪, an engineer working for a Chinese streaming site, sided with Li, saying that this relatively new technology was neutral and harmless on its own. “There’s no right or wrong about a technology,” Wu said, “If TV producers think their audiences lack patience, they should reflect on what’s wrong with their content instead of blaming everything on technology.”

Despite Chinese TV producers’ unhealthy obsession with filler episodes, it seems that at least the country’s media regulators have been slowly awakening to the fact that its homemade shows are too long. In an attempt to curb content padding, the National Radio and Television Administration (NRTA), China’s top regulatory body for entertainment, reportedly started drafting new regulations earlier this month, which, if passed, would require all sorts of shows to be under 40 episodes.