Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How The Netflix Original Series Got Its Credits

The opening credits to Netflix's latest original series Orange is the New Black are an impressive marriage of the technical limitations of the medium (web video) with artistic considerations. If you've been watching the show, you might have wondered why the creators wasted 62 seconds on an opening credit sequence that consists mostly of still images.



You might ask yourself, "why on earth would Netflix do this?" For the most part, credit sequences have been getting shorter over time, and one of the other main functions of the title sequence—to give the editors a few seconds slack if an episode runs too long or too short—doesn't apply in this situation.

One potential reason is that Netflix now needs your video stream to "warm up". You may have noticed that lately videos served by Netflix begins very blurry and sharpen over the first few minutes. If this occurs, do not adjust your television. The first few bits of video that Netflix sends are intentionally of lower bandwidth. Generally speaking, lower bandwidth means lower quality, so why do this? Because they can deliver lower-bandwidth video to your laptop/Xbox/Roku faster. And speed kills; even when watching videos from a TV, forcing viewers to wait as little as two seconds for video to start can decrease engagement.

Which leads into the next part—the decision to use all of these still or nearly-still images. This lets Netflix keep the visual quality of the credits relatively high despite the lower level of bandwidth, by (essentially) repeating the same frame of video over and over again.

It's not clear that the exact structure of the credits are intentionally mitigating the limitations of Netflix's delivery platform, but it's at least awfully convenient.
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