Netflix considering ‘mobile cuts’ of its content
Thu 16 Mar 2017
The chief product officer for Netflix has revealed that the streaming giant is exploring the possibility of creating differently-edited versions of its own original content to viewers on mobile devices.
Speaking to journalists in San Francisco Neil Hunt promised a serious consideration of reframed or otherwise differently cropped versions of Netflix originals which might play better in the limited screen space or particular screen ratios of common mobile devices.
“It’s not inconceivable, ” said Hunt. “that you could take a master [copy] and make a different cut for mobile,”
It has also been suggested not only that existing desktop-format shots might have their appearance altered, but that entirely separate shots might be made for mobile-specific viewing.
Netflix began to discuss the issue earlier this month in an examination of its usage of the Interoperable Master Format (IMF) format developed as a versatile standard master source by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE).
‘Netflix licenses the majority of its content from other owners, sometimes years after the original assets were created, and often for multiple territories. This leads to a number of problems, including receiving cropped or pan-and-scanned versions of films. We also frequently run into problems when we try to sync dubbed audio and/or subtitles. For example, a film shot and premiered theatrically at 24 frames per second (fps), may be converted to 29.97fps and/or re-cut for a specific distribution channel. Alternate language assets (like audio and timed text) are then created to match the derivative version.’
Viewers are already used to alternative edits of mainstream content, if only from ‘sanitised’ versions of R-rated material, or output that a network wants to broadcast to a wider audience than ratings recommendations permit, where cuts for language, violence and sexual content may occur – often compensated by the inclusion of footage not seen in any other version (which occasionally distresses the director).
Directors have been shooting ‘alternate’ scenes for different markets and environments for a long time. What IMF brings to the streaming scenario is the possibility of generating multiple versions of a movie – including both content and bit-rate provision – based on requirements at the time of viewing.
In effect this makes the IMF master not so much a repository of a movie as the vision of a single director, but more like a website, where XML and device-sniffing combines with other possible factors (potentially parental controls) to determine what the show or movie actually contains in terms of content, shot choices and shot framing. Potentially such schemes could make it difficult to define any real definitive version, particularly in newer content which is expecting this level of versatility.
In the case of popular classics which are subject to directorial interference even decades after original release, the loss of ‘authentic’ or ‘original’ versions of a film pre-dates the digital era, with many contending that the 1978 Spielberg SF outing Close Encounters of the Third Kind has been so frequently re-imagined as to now constitute more of a jigsaw puzzle than any currently available, integral movie. Similar criticism has been aimed at colorization and alternative retro-edits of popular movies such as the original Star Wars trilogy.