I watched TV at 1.5x speed for a week – here’s what I learned

I watched TV at 1.5x speed for a week – here’s what I learned
(Image credit: BBC)

How busy are you today? Too busy to exercise? Too busy take a lunch break? Too busy even to watch TV at normal speed? 

Surprising as it may seem, many of us answer yes to that last one – according to research carried out by YouGov & The Sunday Times, 27 per cent of people increase the playback speed of whatever they're watching, be it 1.2x, 1.5x or even 2x speed. 

Even more surprisingly, the demographic most likely to do it is aged 65+, with 36 per cent of the silver streamers surveyed saying they crank up the speed at least sometimes.

Why would you do this? Thirty per cent of respondents say they do so to skip sections that are "boring, scary, sad etc.", while 29 per cent say it's due to impatience. Twenty-two per cent put it down to time pressures, and 8 per cent say it's in order to "stay focussed".

Personally, I find it baffling.

Intrigued, and excited at clawing back some much-needed time for myself, I spent a week watching TV at 1.5x speed. Here's what I learned.

You get used to the chipmunk effect

I had envisaged everything I watched would look like The Benny Hill Show's closing credits and for everyone to sound like Alvin from The Chipmunks. And I was right, to an extent. 

People do move around at a pace that's almost comically fast, and voices do have a higher pitch. But I got used to it. As long as I wasn't watching action or sport, the movement didn't jar too much. And while I still noticed the voices, I found myself minding them a lot less.

What’s worse is that people speak like they're stringing all their words together without stopping for breath – so "Hi, how are you?" becomes "Hihowareyou?". It's exhausting. But it does make you pay attention in an effort to keep up. I can see where the "stay focussed" contingent are coming from.

Some shows work better than others


(Image credit: BBC)

This might sound obvious, but some genres of content lend themselves to this kind of viewing more than others. Episodes of Bluey don’t suffer too much, though the emotional payoff isn’t quite the same – and the start of the end credits even more abrupt – when delivered at one and a half times the intended speed. 

Sport is a definite no-no; Today at The Test would be right at home being soundtracked by Yakety Sax, while the action scenes of Venom: Let There Be Carnage were a mess of quick cuts in the dark – it was like being beaten up in a wardrobe.

Subtitles can help

But perhaps the biggest problem is dialogue. Comedy shows in particular seem to be getting faster-paced, as the writers try to cram in more jokes – just compare This Time with Alan Partridge to Alan’s first TV light entertainment outing Knowing Me, Knowing You from the 90s. 

I struggle to keep up with Avenue 5's dialogue at regular speed, so I wouldn't stand a chance at 1.5x (Sky Q doesn't support the feature, so I wasn't able to find out for myself – see below for which services let you increase playback speed).

Subtitles do help, but present a challenge all of their own. Specifically, they're only on screen fleetingly in order to keep up with the dialogue. It's like sharing a book with a speed reader.

You can save time

On the plus side, it does save you time – something the 22 per cent of people putting their habit down to time pressures clearly want. And given the frantic pace of modern life, combined with the abundance of TV content available, it's maybe something we could all do with.

A 58-minute episode of The Sixth Commandment took just under 40 minutes. So you could cram three hour-long episodes of something into the time it would take you to watch two at normal speed. If you want to binge a lot of TV fast, it will certainly help you get through it.

But you miss a lot


(Image credit: BBC)

The downside of course is that you miss plenty of subtle details that you would otherwise pick up on at normal speed. I had to rewind the frantic last few seconds of The Bones of St Nicholas episode of Inside No. 9 to work out what had just happened. And while I could still enjoy the characters, setting and the quality of the writing, it definitely lost some of its spooky atmosphere – those lingering shots linger for a reason.

You soon get used to normal speed again


(Image credit: HBO)

After a week of watching at 1.5x, normal speed feels refreshingly slow-paced: I was able to read facial expressions, listen to the dialogue instead of hearing it, and allow establishing shots to serve their purpose instead of being swept out of the way to make way for more relentless doing. Picking up where I had left off with Succession on Sky Atlantic was less of an adjustment than I had feared. Instead of finding myself itching to skip ahead, I felt like I'd stopped having video content endlessly conveyor belted into my face. Welcome back, normality.

So, should you watch at a higher playback speed?

Having done nothing but for the last week, no, I wouldn't recommend it. Yes, you can get through a lot more TV than at normal speed, but if you watch a show to get through it, maybe you want to revisit your relationship with the medium. Are you binge-watching for bragging rights? Or because you're genuinely interested in the story? 

It reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke: "I speed read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia."

Speed watching FAQ

What TV services let you alter playback speed?

Netflix, BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Apple TV+ all let you increase playback speed.

Which streaming services don’t let you adjust playback speed?

Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video currently don’t offer the feature, though there are extensions for the Chrome browser that will enable the same functionality. Set-top box services like Sky Q, Virgin Media and Freeview also don’t have the feature.

How do you increase playback speed?

Pause what you’re watching. Select the Speed icon and choose a playback speed.

BBC iPlayer (not on mobile app)
Choose from a playback speed next to the Settings icon.

Playback Speed is in the Settings menu, accessed by clicking the cog icon next to the subtitles controls.

Apple TV+ (iOS app only)
Pause what you’re watching. Tap the Settings menu (three dots), and select Playback Speed.


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Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.