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Why I Almost Didn’t Sign The Dailykos Petition

 

Thu Dec 02, 2010 at 12:14:12 PM PST

I was reluctant to sign the Dailykos petition in support of Netflix and asking the FCC to reign in Comcast’s abuse of corporate power. Why was I reluctant to do so? Because of the history of Netflix’s hostile business practices towards the deaf community, in refusing to caption streaming videos. Dana Mulvany, a consumer advocate, explains the history between Netflix and the deaf community, which I am a part of:

Yet virtually all new DVDs and TV programs have captions or subtitles.   Why hasn’t Netflix figured out how to repurpose the captions and subtitles from DVDs more quickly for online streaming?  Hulu.com does this with a very short turn around period without even charging viewers.  Netflix has dragged its feet about doing this even when it’s raking in millions of dollars from its subscribers.  The problem seems to be one of attitude and will, not resources.

Dana’s succinct explanation of the history between Netflix and the deaf community continues…

The technology’s clearly available.  YouTube can automatically synchronize a caption file with the audio in videos that are uploaded to its web site, and does this for free for all videos uploaded to the web site (if the option to do so is turned on).  Although Netflix would probably have to pay Google, the owner of YouTube, to use that technology, doing so would pay off in making the streaming videos accessible to 36 million people with hearing loss and millions more who use captions because they’re not native speakers of English, have auditory processing disorders, or other reasons.  There’s a huge market out there for captioned content, but the company seems to have made hugely erroneous assumptions about the large need for captioning. An investment of a couple of hundreds of dollars in reformatting the already provided captioning for each movie would allow thousands and thousands more subscribers to watch those movies.

This is a huge issue for the deaf community, because Netflix is planning to enlarge the net video industry, and change the pricing tiers for DVDs, which penalizes those who are deaf. Alison Polk, a blogger at Deaf Politics, explains the pricing structure and why it penalizes those who are deaf below:

This move has been framed in the news media as part of Netflix’s plan since the 90′s to wean customers off the DVD and onto online subscriptions, as the “net” in “Netflix” indicates. More and more customers are watching online content and foregoing DVDs—with one exception: customers who use captioning to access these movies.

For many deaf and hard of hearing customers, for example, this is salt in the wound since Chief Product Office Neil Hunt responded in June 2009 to widespread complaints that Netflix did not provide access to customers who were nonetheless paying the same rate as everyone else thus: It’s too hard and the technology isn’t available, but we’ll work on it. Maybe in another year. At the same time he made these claims about these technological difficulties, Hulu.com was providing captioned online content for TV shows immediately after release.

Well, they did eventually surmount this apparent technological hardship: In April of this year, Hunt announced that some shows and movies were available subtitled online. Translation? Some = “about 100,” compared to the actual Netflix streaming library of over 10 thousand movies and over 20 thousand programs. Eight months after that initial announcement, the library has increased to just over 300, according to one informal cataloguer.

And as @deafpolitics said on Twitter below:

If #Netflix captions 300 titles every 8 months and they stay at this rate, it’ll take 38 years to caption 17,000 titles.

It just isn’t the deaf community that’s taking notice on how slow Netflix intentionally is being in providing access for millions of deaf and hard of hearing Americans, it’s also others like those at Talking Points Memo, as you can see below:

David Kurtz:

If my family history is any indication, I’ll soon be in need of closed captioning, too. (What do you mean “soon,” my wife would interject.) How about it Netflix?

Even though President Obama signed one of the major landmark laws affecting deaf and hard of hearing Americans, the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010, there remain a few major loopholes–and that big loophole is the captioning of online media that wasn’t broadcast on television first.

This new law will require any and every video that, first, is broadcast on television and, then, distributed via the Internet to include closed captioning.

Here’s what you can do to help out the deaf and hard of hearing community regarding Netflix, online captioning, and TV captioning:

  1. Tell the FCC to improve TV captioning.
  1. Via @TyGiordano, a deaf actor–”Call @Netflix today: 866.716.0414. Engage the cust svc rep in a civil way. Make them aware u wish to see captions online.”
  1. Please follow the schedule set by the FCC in which you can submit comments on regulations under the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.
  1. Join the Must Caption Netflix movement on Facebook!
  1. Sign the petition to Netflix about their refusal to actually do online captioning.

In the end, I signed the Dailykos petition in support of Netflix against the abuses of Comcast because I am also a strong proponent of network neutrality. I wanted to make it clear why I was ambivalent about doing so, and I hope people who read this diary understand why, and will help us in the deaf community out.  

[Editor's note: This article first appeared in Dailykos.com on 12/02/10.]

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