Netflix shows may get an audio-only mode, because nothing is sacred

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Netflix is working on an audio-only listening mode for its Android app, it seems. A small selection of Android users are seeing a Video Off function that enables them to switch off video and just keep the audio playing.

As reported by Android Police, the feature was first noticed in October by XDA Developers, after an app teardown to see what secrets the Netflix code held for future features. (There's also a new Audio Only setting for switching between Always On, Headphones or External Speakers, and Off.)

As ever, Netflix appears to be trialling the new feature with a small number of subscribers, with the possibility that we'll see this audio-only functionality roll out to all Netflix users worldwide.

Why the change? It may speak to today's attention spans – or rather the immense multi-app, multi-tasking that the digital generation has grown used to. Why sit and watch Netflix when you can send out some tweets at the same time as listening to a nature documentary, or cooking a meal you can't take your eyes off for a minute or two?

Netflix vs creators

It may be that the move lands Netflix in some hot water, given the streaming service's history of measures that prioritize user convenience over creator intent.

Earlier this year we saw Netflix introduce playback speed controls, for those who wished to speed up TV shows and binge more efficiently, or slow down series for a more leisurely pace. There's definitely a case for accessibility here, though there's no getting around the fact that David Fincher didn't intend his new Netflix movie Mank to be watched at 1.5x regular speed (maybe try it, just in case).

The audio-only mode will certainly work for some titles better than others, with documentaries and chat shows likely bearing the brunt of usage. We don't think the telekinetic madness of Stranger Things season 4 or animated brilliance of Castlevania season 4 will be quite the same with just the sound effects.

For now, though, we're in the testing phase – and for every person who doesn't bother using it, it's less likely it will ever come to fruition.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.