Why does Netflix’s accessible offering hit Presto and Stan for six?

Monday, 27 April 2015 12:21pm

Barely a moment after we were celebrating the launch of ABC’s long-awaited audio description service on the popular iview player video on demand (VOD) giant Netflix stormed into Australia and unleashed captioning, and only a day later, audio description.

Batsman preparing to swing at a cricket ball

Was this event unfortunate timing for those of us who wanted publicity for the new iview service or the shape of things to come?

To put the Netflix offering into perspective, the captioning is more generous at effectively 100 per cent, compared to iview’s 64 per cent, but the ABC has 14 hours per week of audio description (AD) compared to a handful of shows on Netflix.

The first Netflix offering with AD is Daredevil, an action series with a blind superhero and a good indication of why public lobbying by AD users was quite successful.

But the point is that the advocacy work around Daredevil was mainly in the USA, and whilst I am sure some Australians signed the petition, it wasn’t mentioned locally as a factor.

The real impact was that Netflix, having decided to audio describe Daredevil, activated the service across its English-speaking markets (USA/Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand).

As a result, blind people were the winners in the global media market and Netflix worldwide received tonnes of free publicity.

But Netflix must have been ready to go—you can’t just introduce a service like that overnight without some idea that might want to introduce an audio description service in the future and thus set up your operations to be able to deliver it when needed.

However, some of the finesse, like an interface which is properly accessible, has not yet been developed. Contrast this with the iview service and its very accessible platform, properly tested by users.

As the just-published report by Media Access Australia, Access on Demand: Captioning and Audio Description on Video On Demand services, concludes, “the levels of captioning on these services (US-based such as Netflix, iTunes) can be largely attributed to the workings of the 21st Century Video Accessibility Act 2010.” Basically, country-specific laws affecting global media providers can have global implications.

So I think what we have here is a company (Netflix) thinking globally, and therefore a singular decision to prevent further American law suits (which is how the captioning levels got so high – see Netflix to caption 100 per cent of its content) leads to a global implementation. It’s almost harder not to provide the access everywhere.

Further, given that hearing and vision impairment clocks up about 15-20 per cent of the population, the decision makes good business sense. This is further reinforced by the total lack of access services on local offerings Presto and Stan. They pre-date Netflix in the market, but are now playing catch-up, not only on the publicity front, but to provide any kind of access services.

It seems that any kind of excuse about you need time to establish and then review those services has been blown sky high – according to Netflix the implementation time for new access services can be whittled down to a day or two. Media Access Australia has been a little more generous in its call for action, giving the industry until the end of 2016 to provide captioning and audio description.

Alex Varley is the CEO of Media Access Australia, publisher of the Access on Demand report, and eagerly signed up for accessible Netflix in the first week of offering.  He also has a Foxtel subscription which he watches with captions and consumes ABC iview with captions on his iPhone.

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