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Mónica Guzmán

Stories at the intersection of tech and life from a boldly connected city.

May 24, 2014 at 8:00 PM

How to binge on an entire TV series in half the time

Read 'em and weep. (Source: Nielsen image)

Read ’em and weep. (Source: Nielsen. See larger image.)

It takes 22 hours to watch “House of Cards,” one day and seven hours to catch up with “Downton Abbey” and two days and nine hours to see every episode of “Mad Men.”

Do any of us really have the time?

Online download and streaming services have made it easier than ever to give chunks of our lives to any of hundreds of addictive TV series.


Watch three or four more episodes than you mean to some days, though, as I’ve been doing with “Walking Dead,” and the show’s total run time starts to feel like a prison sentence.

“Amazon Instant Video dropping the whole HBO catalog sans ‘Game of Thrones’ into the bucket,” joked friend and blogger Finnian Durkan, “may just have broken my ability to get off of my couch.”

The media gluttony is enough to make a hungry TV hog wish there were a way to get all the taste with half the fat.
There is.

Call it speedwatching.

Seattle’s Alexander Theoharis watches most shows at up to two times their normal speed and doesn’t think he’s missing anything.
It started as an accident, a key he bumped on his laptop more than five years ago.

It sped up a show he was watching on VLC, a popular open-source media player, to 1.1 times its normal playback rate.

Curious, he hit the key again. And again.

He was a law student, and extra time was worth chasing.

“I wanted to watch things but felt guilty about watching them,” he said.


Now everything he sees he speeds up. “Breaking Bad” he watched at about 1.6x, a velocity of choice for his favorite series. He zoomed through parts of “The Office” at 2.4x, with subtitles to assist. That gave Theoharis all the laughs — comic timing survives the hyperdrive, he insists — in far fewer than the show’s 98 total hours.

“I just needed to know what happened,” he said.

Theoharis’ wife will sometimes leave the room when he speedwatches. He’s used to the faster pacing and voices — VLC’s speedup feature keeps them from squeaking like chipmunks — but she still can’t stand it.

So except for that one time on a plane last week when his wife wanted to finish “The Terminator” before it was time to stow electronic devices, the couple watch shows together at that sluggish normal speed.

To be clear: Speedwatching TV shows is not a growing trend. Theoharis knows only one other friend who’s picked up the habit.

And from him, no less.

Many more people speed up things like online lectures and amateur videos. YouTube added a variable-speed function for just that reason.

Theoharis, who’s 29 and works on a Web series called “Job Hunters,” uses VLC to speed up DVDs. Unlike many in his “Zero TV” generation, he doesn’t bother watching anything that’s streamed on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video or HBO Go. You can probably guess why. No turbo.

Overseas in Cyprus, designer Alex Cican started speedwatching TV series late last year. In January he created what’s become a popular online calculator at that tells you how many days, weeks or months you’ve spent devouring your feast of shows.

Me? Thirty-four days in the past five years. And those are just the binges I remember.

Cican loves watching lean. A “Game of Thrones” episode that takes everyone 55 minutes takes him 35, saving about three hours a season.

“It might take some time getting used to it, but it’s like you earn ‘extra free time’ to do other activities,” he said.
After I talked to Alexander and Alex, I downloaded the VLC player, watched a couple of videos at 1.5x and 2x, and was pleasantly surprised. With just a little more concentration, I could actually follow them.


I’m about 28 hours into the two days and three hours it will take to watch “Walking Dead.” I wouldn’t mind cutting those last 23 hours in half. I might get more sleep.

“I have another really great trick for saving time on ‘Walking Dead,’ ” my husband told me when I said as much in the car last week.

“Don’t watch it.”

This article has changed to correct what Theoharis speeds up using VLC — series he’s got on DVD.

Thanks to Zachary Cohn – Alexander’s speedwatching friend – for introducing me to this habit!

Previously, on TV and movie habits…

Mónica Guzmán’s column appears in Sunday’s Seattle Times. Got a story about living with technology in the Northwest — or know someone she should meet? Send her an email, follow her on Twitter @moniguzman or send her a message on Facebook.

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