Netflix CEO really doesn’t care about subtitles/captioning

I’m sickened at Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings’ attitude towards subtitles and captioning for their portfolio of  online movies that can be instantly watched.  He claims that it’s too difficult and the technology isn’t here which is the furthest thing from the truth.  I’ve been faithful Netflix customer for years and have submitted numerous requests to Netflix customer support pushing for subtitles and captions to be offered as an option.   From the Netflix shareholders meeting, it’s apparent that Netflix has no plans to do this and doesn’t care much for the idea that there are many customers who would benefit from the subtitles or captions.

Below is excerpt from:

http://willworkforjustice.blogspot.com/2009/05/netflixs-annual-shareholder-meeting.html

—————

….I then mentioned Netflix’s failure to add captions/subtitles to its online streaming videos. Netflix’s “instant play” option doesn’t include captions, making its online video option unusable for many users. As a result of not offering captions, Netflix is alienating its hearing-impaired, deaf, and senior citizen customers. According to some estimates, there are 34 million hearing-impaired persons in the United States. One would think Netflix would think better than to alienate such a large customer base.

I asked what Netflix was doing to make its website and online video accessible to everyone. Mr. Hastings said other sites didn’t offer captions, and mentioned hulu.com as one of them. He said as time progresses, captioning technology will become more widespread, and Netflix would then incorporate it into its own technology. He also said that customers can continue to receive DVDs through the mail, and most DVDs contained captions.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hastings, I use hulu.com to watch Simpsons episodes. Except for a few episodes, every Simpsons episode I’ve watched had captions. Obviously, the technology exists to make online video accessible to everyone, so I wasn’t quite ready to let this topic pass. I gave Mr. Hastings another chance to explain how he would make his business accessible to everyone. I mentioned that hulu.com did indeed offer captions, and I said (paraphrased), “It sounds like you’re not planning to do anything to add captions to your site. Am I correct in understanding that you don’t plan on making your online videos accessible to the disabled?” Mr. Hastings said he would check out hulu.com, but essentially agreed that adding captions wasn’t an active agenda item. Now, I don’t want to go Kanye West on anyone, but it didn’t feel like Mr. Hastings or Netflix cares about deaf people.

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  • Tayler

    What sickened me about Hastings is that he said since no one was doing it, they didn't have to. (it doesn't matter if Hastings didn't know Hulu has some captioned shows).

    I commented earlier on the post you refer to. It's awaiting moderation.

    (BTW, I downloaded Hulu Desktop last night and watched two captioned episodes of The Simpsons on my TV via my Mac. The coolest thing? Apple remotes works with Hulu Desktop. :) It works for Vista remotes as well.)

  • Siby

    How about filing the complaints to FCC?

  • That will not help. Netflix is not legally bound to provide subtitles online. The Telecommunications Act doesn't apply in this case.

  • drmzz

    Just about when I was going to join. Lame. Not necessarily apply only for the disabled but the general population but it's still unfortunate to miss out the huge potential deafened subscriber base. Documented text can be used for other things like advertising, promos, and games, etc. instead for movies themselves. Thanks.

  • RLM

    Jared,

    Here is the submittance from the NAD's support for proposed legislation draft –

    the 21th Century ……………

    I tried to enclose the link, but the computer software refuse to allow me to copy and past the link. I have no choice about pasting the NAD's announcement –

    Just look at the draft language like the provision like requiring the online programming to be captioned. I really do not know what happened to this draft legislation so far.

    NAD Supports Draft Legislation to Ensure Access to Technology

    Posted January 4, 2008

    To refer others to this page, please use:
    http://www.nad.org/DraftLegislationAccessTech
    The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) announced its support of a recently released U.S. House of Representatives discussion draft, titled “21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act”. This draft, if passed, would upgrade telecommunications laws to mandate access to current and future cutting edge technologies.

    Through its leadership in the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT) (http://www.coataccess.org), the NAD has been working with Congress on this draft for many months and is pleased with its release.

    Since the early 1990s, federal law has required accessibility features and services such as telecommunications relay services, captioning decoder circuitry in televisions, and closed captioning for television programming.

    While these requirements have served the deaf and hard of hearing community well, they have not kept pace with, nor have been updated to apply to, newer technologies such as mobile devices or the Internet. As a result, deaf and hard of hearing individuals now are experiencing decreased access to telecommunications devices and services. This draft U.S. House of Representatives bill would amend the Communications Act to remedy this lack of access. Among other things, it would:

    Expand the scope of devices that must display closed captions. Today, television sets with screens that are 13 inches or larger must be capable of displaying captions, but other devices do not have to meet this requirement. Under this draft, captioning requirements would apply to all devices (regardless of screen size) that display video programming transmitted simultaneously with sound, including those that display programming carried over the Internet.

    Clarify that video programming includes what is provided by or comparable to that provided by a television broadcast station, even if the programming is distributed over the Internet. Current captioning requirements apply only to broadcast, cable, or satellite programming. This new provision would have the effect of extending captioning requirements to comparable programming shown over the Internet.

    Require manufacturers of devices used to display video programming, including those that are Internet based, to ensure that these devices are accessible by people with disabilities. Manufacturers also would be required to provide a conspicuous means of accessing closed captioning, including a button on remote controls and first level access to this feature when available through on-screen menus.
    “Deaf and hard of hearing consumers are tired of being denied access to today’s technologies because these have not been created with accessibility in mind,” remarked NAD President Bobbie Beth Scoggins. “If passed, this draft bill will remedy many of the problems we have had with telecommunications access. It simply is not acceptable to leave out 30-plus million deaf and hard of hearing people from access to cutting-edge telecommunications devices and services. The NAD urges U.S. Congressional members to take decisive action to close the digital divide in an expeditious manner.”

    Read a summary of the draft bill here.
    Read the full draft here.

    I just learn that Rep. Markley is no longer on the U.S. H.R's “Science and Technology” subcommittee. Markley is a movie buff himself. He used to be the chairperson of that subcommittee. Markley would root for us, deaf people having the full accessibility to the online programmings with captions.

    The NAD ought to keep us updated about this draft legislation. It didn't!

    RLM

  • nacpac

    YES!!!!! Thought I was alone bitching about Netflix. I quit Netflix twice for the exact reasons above!

  • kim

    The problem is the ADA doesn't cover new technologies. When it was written no one ever dreamed there could be a day when people would be able to download movies to a home computer.

    I have Netflix, and used to pay for the 'unlimited' program that included downloads. Then I downsized to 'two per month' because they pissed me off. I supplement with library rentals. I don't think that's the answer to the long range problem though.

  • I have known about this for a LONG time now…in fact TWO FULL years…see here:

    http://blog.deafread.com/iwii/archives/17

    I even get dumb E-mails from hearing people who find my blog via google.

  • We all have known that Netflix has not been moving on subtitles for a long time now even after many of us have bothering them about it and they keep saying, “it's coming soon someday…”

    But to see such an clear-cut message directly from CEO himself saying that it's not important and not one of their priorities totally takes the cake and boils my blood. It's clear they lied to us and have no plans at all to tackle this issue of inaccessiblity.

    Two years is more than enough time to include the subtitling into their workflow when adding movies to their “Watch Now” feature.

  • DeafNY

    I attended a workshop last weekend about advocacy. Someone from the audience expressed their frustrations with the Netflix and also persistently sent them emails about this issue. The Netflix finally agreed to have online videos captioned by next year. Will they really do it, I don't know, but I hope they will.