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Netflix is testing an audio-only mode to compete with podcasts and audiobooks

The new feature would allow subscribers to stream shows and movies without video.

Netflix is testing an audio-only mode to compete with podcasts and audiobooks

Netflix is already experimenting with what can best be described as audiobooks with video, partnering with Black celebrities to read children's books from Black authors.

Image: Netflix

Netflix is testing a new audio-only mode with a subset of its Android users, according to code snippets found in the latest version of its Android app. The feature allows users to stream just the audio track of a show or movie in the background. This would effectively allow for a listening experience that's similar to podcasts or audiobooks, while also cutting down on data consumption.

XDA Developers was first to report about the new test after spotting related code lines in Netflix's latest Android app. "Save your data by turning off the video and listening to your favorite shows," one of the snippets found in the app explains. "The video is off, but you can continue listening to your show while you are busy doing other things," another text string notes.

Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This isn't the first time that Netflix has experimented with an audio-only experience. Back in 2017, a team of Netflix engineers developed an "audiobook mode" as part of one of the company's hack days. The company regularly hosts these hack day events to encourage creative experiments, but most hack day projects never turn into actual product features.

Netflix also regularly tests new features with subsets of its audience, and only implements these features after tests show a clear positive impact on engagement and retention. Still, an audio-only feature would make a lot of sense for the service. Netflix has long produced stand-up comedy specials that would work well in an audio-only experience.

More recently, Netflix has also experimented with what can best be described as audiobooks with video. As part of its efforts to spotlight Black creators, Netflix recently teamed up with Black celebrities like Tiffany Haddish, Lupita Nyong'o and Jill Scott to read children's books from Black authors.

Netflix co-CEO Reed Hastings in particular has also long made the argument that the company doesn't just compete with other streaming services, but with anything that its users spend their time on. "We compete for a share of members' time and spending for relaxation and stimulation," the company states in its long-term view for investors, which calls out video gaming, web browsing and magazine reading as just some examples.

"We strive to win more of our members' 'moments of truth,'" the long-term view document continues. "Those decision points are, say, at 7:15 p.m. when a member wants to relax, enjoy a shared experience with friends and family, or is bored. The member could choose Netflix or a multitude of other options."

An audio-only mode could arguably help Netflix win more of those moments by providing an alternative to podcasts and audiobooks.

Protocol | Workplace

The Activision Blizzard lawsuit has opened the floodgates

An employee walkout, a tumbling stock price and damning new reports of misconduct.

Activision Blizzard is being sued for widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Activision Blizzard is in crisis mode. The World of Warcraft publisher was the subject of a shocking lawsuit filed by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing last week over claims of widespread sexism, harassment and discrimination against female employees. The resulting fallout has only intensified by the day, culminating in a 500-person walkout at the headquarters of Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine on Wednesday.

The company's stock price has tumbled nearly 10% this week, and CEO Bobby Kotick acknowledged in a message to employees Tuesday that Activision Blizzard's initial response was "tone deaf." Meanwhile, there has been a continuous stream of new reports unearthing horrendous misconduct as more and more former and current employees speak out about the working conditions and alleged rampant misogyny at one of the video game industry's largest and most powerful employers.

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Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

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Protocol | Workplace

Founder sues the company that acquired her startup

Knoq founder Kendall Hope Tucker is suing the company that acquired her startup for discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

Kendall Hope Tucker, founder of Knoq, is suing Ad Practitioners, which acquired her company last year.

Photo: Kendall Hope Tucker

Kendall Hope Tucker felt excited when she sold her startup last December. Tucker, the founder of Knoq, was sad to "give up control of a company [she] had poured five years of [her] heart, soul and energy into building," she told Protocol, but ultimately felt hopeful that selling it to digital media company Ad Practitioners was the best financial outcome for her, her team and her investors. Now, seven months later, Tucker is suing Ad Practitioners alleging discrimination, retaliation and fraud.

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Protocol | Fintech

The digital dollar is coming. The payments industry is worried.

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Jodie Kelley is CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association.

Photo: Electronic Transactions Association

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Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Signal at (510)731-8429.

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