Playback speed for instructional videos: Considerations for Vimeo users and developers

Instructional videos are a staple for people learning new skills – whether learning new languages (math and programming languages included), how to prepare new recipes for dinner (thanks America’s Test Kitchen!), figuring out home maintenance tasks, or watching educational lectures. These videos can be notoriously complex and too fast, or long-winded and too slow. As a viewer, I find it incredibly helpful to be able change the playback speed to suit my learning needs. This is a core feature that the Vimeo player is currently lacking…

An Open Memo to Vimeo:

Playback speed control is worth the effort of implementing into your native video player. Teachers, instructors, tutors, mentors, and learners appreciate this functionality at a basic level. Your development team has done great work on other features thus far, and I’m sure that this request can be accommodated if it becomes a priority. Judging from the number of similar requests in your user forum, it is not a minority of dedicated users asking for this feature. You could serve an increasing number of current and potential customers who are happy to host videos on your platform… if only it were more flexible for education needs. Viewers demand integrated playback speed control, and your native users are hearing them. Are you?

Watching educational content at 1.5x speed or greater is a must. As much as I’d hate to do it, I may have to migrate my videos to YouTube for this reason – it’s that important.

Firefly Lectures (1 video on Vimeo, hundreds on YouTube)

Educational videos are quite popular on Vimeo and there are hundreds of thousands if not millions of people that consume this content. People listen and process information at different speeds and I’m sure that these students would find variable playback hugely beneficial. Vimeo uses an HTML5 player, and variable playback speed is already supported — all that would be necessary is a button to control it. It seems as if this is a feature that the community would use.

Chesscademy (2 videos on Vimeo, 8 on YouTube)

I understand your concern about focusing on the features that you’ve determined are high priority to your community. However, a couple of things to consider:

  1. The global e-learning market is set to grow 8% annually and be worth $51.5bn by 2016 (source below)
  2. If you solely concentrate on your current community you are ignoring your potential community.

By the looks of things, I too am going to have to opt for your principal competitor instead of a Pro account with Vimeo unless you can tell me that this feature (a seriously high priority for education content – as you can see from the above comments) is on the short-term roadmap.

Mark R. (recently left Vimeo with an e-learning market forecast)

Framing my Vimeo playback speed experience:

Recently, I helped to collect and analyze some pilot research data from a group of medical students. They watched and provided feedback on new instructional videos. Researchers were interested in video content, and didn’t directly ask about the speed of the presentation. We were surprised when we received quite a bit of feedback that might be best summarized as “why can’t we change the speed?!” This sentiment is also reflected in other research, where students reported video playback speed as an integral feature for learning.

Wanting to be responsive to end-user feedback, and not being able to find an easy solution in the Vimeo dashboard, I looked to the official user forum. What I found was a slew of other user requests for this feature, dating back three years. Last year, a representative of Vimeo responded with a clear, two-step solution (summarized):

  1. You first need to pay for the premium “PRO” membership plan,
  2. then go find a third-party player instead of Vimeo’s native player.

…and this continues to be their go-to solution:

“Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”
Attributed to William of Ockham (circa. 1347)

Vimeo’s PRO [third-party player] plan is an option, but not one that I would consider as a viable solution. This is especially true if I need to embed videos in other third-party platforms (e.g., research surveys, sites that don’t allow for extra scripts)… would those then be fourth-party platforms? Anyway, I’m exploring some other parties’ platforms until this basic functionality is integrated as a feature in Vimeo’s native player.

While the the request board continues to be a protest front – a sign of unrest among Vimeo natives – it falls on deaf ears of Vimeo’s development team. Last year’s final response was: “We tend not to add features to the player that aren’t crucial to the majority of our community.

If teachers, instructors, tutors, mentors, and learners are considered a minority group, and three years of “crucial” concerns are ignored, then I do have a few questions for Vimeo:

  • How have you measured the “majority” of users’ disinterest in playback speed?
  • How have you quantified the number of users within the learning minority?
  • How have you done beta testing to assess playback speed preferences?
  • Is this just a sign of disinterest in serving the education community?

I personally believe the latter – the most simple scenario – to be the most likely.

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Attributed to Albert Einstein (circa. 1934)

Vimeo told users that they “are currently focused on making core functions of [their] player like buffer speed, quality, sharing, etc better.” That’s good – that’s simpler? – and that was last year.  Today, lack of responsiveness is making simple tasks like controlling playback speed difficult for an increasing number of end-users – many who appreciate this core functionality. This is driving both current and potential customers toward other competing video platforms. If a variable speed playback feature is freely available somewhere else as a core function (e.g., YouTube), then what is the simplest solution for presenting educational/instructional videos?

Until this situation is adequately addressed, I suggest potential customers look elsewhere before paying premium rates to tinker with more-complex, third-party solutions that aren’t directly supported by Vimeo. This platform does have some unique features that are worth paying for… but if video playback speed is important to your viewers, then buyer beware!

Author Disclaimer:

Before retreating to academia, the author spent a few years managing a big-chain multiplex theater. He ran hundreds of movies in digital-3D and using old-fashioned film projectors. More pertinent to this discussion; he got used to fielding erratic customer complaints while communicating actionable issues to the powers-that-be. He has since contributed to a few research publications relating to YouTube, assessment, and education. He also consults with start-ups and established organizations that appreciate evidence-based decision making.

These are his personal views and not those of employers or colleagues. (unless they agree)

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