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4/25/2011

Netflix Turns a Deaf Ear to the Hearing Impaired

Closed Captioning Symbol

There is a frustrated group of consumers who are not getting proper respect or attention from Netflix: the deaf and hearing impaired. Many Netflix customers with hearing impairments have been urging Netflix to improve resources for finding and viewing closed captioned content.

Apparently, Netflix has not been addressing these concerns with much energy or interest. Deaf people are complaining that Netflix does far too little to allow the deaf to find closed captioned DVDs on Netflix's Web site. Even worse, closed captioning on Netflix's streaming content is inadequate. Surprisingly, some content that has subtitles on DVD does not have the subtitles on streaming. In short, deaf Netflix customers are getting the shaft.

Here's the worst part. Netflix's pricing structure seems to be a bit more friendly toward streaming viewers while discouraging those who wish to rely on DVD-by-mail. Deaf people rely more heavily on DVD content, because DVD content is more likely to include subtitles. Based on complaints from deaf people, Netflix's streaming service is just not an attractive option for those who have hearing impairments and must read dialog.

Let's forget about the social issues and corporate decency here for a second. Maybe it just makes good business sense to serve the needs of groups with special needs like the deaf. Imagine if a company were to accommodate a demographic like the deaf. This could create a very loyal customer set that could provide many years of steady revenue.

Really, how hard could it be? A lot of content already has subtitles. Beyond that, automatic closed captioning technology keeps getting better. Why is this major technology leader, Netflix, not able to better incorporate these services into its streaming content? Maybe Netflix should look at the long-term marketing potential of making their services more accessible and accommodating toward the deaf.

8 comments:

InstaFlicka Podcast said...

I feel what you are saying. I wonder how much it actually does cost. It could be cost prohibitive to have closed captioning on a lot of content, especially when things often have limited lives on the service, coming and going all the time. I am not trying to be an apologist, but searching for reasons why it may be the way it is...

Editor said...

Yes. Cost certainly must be one of the major reasons Netflix is not doing more to serve the needs of the deaf and hearing impaired. A lot of businesses invest money in wheelchair ramps, Braille instructions, handicapped bathrooms, etc. Some of these property improvements are required by law, but sometimes the business owners make their businesses more accessible to the handicapped just to be nice. Some wise business owners just want to make sure they are not excluding any potential customers.

Netflix is making tons of money off of millions and millions of subscribers. Maybe Netflix should just bite the bullet and set aside a small portion of that fortune to accommodate those with physical disadvantages. There are loads of deaf people out there who love movies. This is really a chance for Netflix to step up to the plate and make life a little easier for the deaf.

Netflix has a pretty sketchy public image (with those who pay attention). This could be an opportunity for Netflix to look kind and decent for a change. Even if Netflix decided to exploit this situation and help the deaf solely as a public relations stunt, it might be a good move for them.

Sebastian St.Troy said...

There is a new lawsuit against Netflix regarding this very issue - Equal Access for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing. You can read more about it from Deaf Politics - http://blog.deafpolitics.org/2011/03/its-official-class-action-lawsuit.html

Additionally, there is a Petition to require Netflix to provide Closed Captioning (their use of subtitles is acceptable) on ALL DVD's and Streaming content. Please voice your support to affect change by signing the Petition - http://www.change.org/petitions/require-netflixmicrosoft-to-provide-equal-access-for-the-deaf-hoh

Sebastian St.Troy said...

Reed Hastings, Founder and CEO: reed.hastings@netflix.com

RoseCat said...

I am not deaf, but my hearing is getting borderline (not bad speaking with people so far but movies, with their loud sound effects and relatively soft voices) so I commonly use subtitles to catch the words I miss from rapid speaking, soft female voices, whispers, etc) so it is not just the deaf community who should support kicking Netflix into CC or subtitling steaming movies (not sure they can do much about movies on DVD that don't come with subtitles or the code for CC (or however a TV knows what is being said) for that it might be necessary to go back to the movie companies and make a fuss, ask for older movies to update as they are replaced with new pressings, recordings whatever they call them. I loved old B&W and early color movies thanks to my father but they rarely have subtitles unfortunately. Luckily they also lack the extremely loud SFX so I can boost the sound slightly, though that is no help for someone with worse hearing or completely deaf.

Anonymous said...

The DVD by mail model is outdated. If you have special needs, talk to the studios. They are the ones with power and they determine how their content gets distributed. Make it a law that, contractually, Netflix has to distribute a captioned version if thats what the whole thing is about. You see, Netflix may need to pay for a captioned title separately from a non-captioned title, and from a business perspective this simply doesn't pay.

Anonymous said...

So, who pays the bills around here? Blockbuster? Some other group trying to cut in on the video streaming market. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.

buddy66 said...

Somebody at Netflix can do the math, or so one hopes... Millions of customers, both actual and potential, are being lost. As the population ages its hearing difficulties increases. There are millions of dollars at stake.