Cinephiles and TV devotees have begun to express concern over Netflix’s announcement that it’s planning to recut its original television series and films.
The idea is to tailor the cuts for a mobile viewing audience, making it easier to read subtitles or create a more immersive experience by playing with different brightness levels. Chief product officer Neil Hunt said it was something the company wanted to explore over the next couple of years, but it’s caused a bit of a disturbance within the film and TV community, as reported by The Verge.
Tailoring something for mobile-specific viewing means that certain aspects of the original cut may not make it into the new version. This isn’t the first time enthusiasts have been faced with this dilemma. Back in the day, most TV sets had a 4:3 ratio, but most films being released in theaters were shot at 1.85:1 and 2.39:1 aspect ratios. While there were options to buy widescreen versions of the film on DVD or VHS, many films were broadcast or released in a format referred to as “pan and scan.”
Pan and scan is exactly what it sounds like. To avoid the black bars at the top or bottom of a screen, an editor would go into the original cut and crop it to make it fit into a fullscreen format. These cuts resulted in certain parts of the original movie not making it into the new version. An example can be seen in the GIF below, taken from the film Seven Brides for Seven Men.
Netflix’s plan to recut some of its content could fall into a similar trap, with the final cut missing certain aspects of the original. That being said, technology is far more advanced than it was when the widescreen-to-fullscreen debacle was underway, and Netflix seems to be aware of the challenges it has ahead of launching the feature.
“It’s not inconceivable that you could take a master [copy] and make a different cut for mobile,” Hunt said.
It shouldn’t be too surprising that Netflix is looking into ways to make mobile viewing easier for subscribers. Last year, Netflix took the company global and since then, mobile usage has skyrocketed among subscribers, particularly in Asia. As more people stream on the go and turn to their phones as primary streaming devices, Netflix wants to ensure the best-quality experience can be delivered.
That’s also why Netflix confirmed that it wants to bring Dolby Atmos and HDR10-enabled content to the newest smartphones. The company recently announced support for those formats with certain phone models — including the new LG G6, which was unveiled at the end of January. It’s not clear when HDR streaming will be enabled on more phones, but Netflix is currently looking into it.