In mid-May 2009, I reported that CEO Reed Hastings had confirmed that Netflix would not take an active approach to captioning its online content. The online community reacted immediately to CEO Hasting's comments. As of today, the Facebook group, "Netflix Watch-Instantly Needs Closed Captions!" had 983 members--most of whom joined after my review of Netflix's annual meeting was published. According to some reports, Netflix recently received thousands of inquiries regarding captioning online content.
Netflix finally issued a statement regarding captions yesterday. Click here to see it. The gist of the statement was that captioning would be supported on a specific Microsoft media player in about one year:
Captioning is in our development plans but is about a year away...I would expect to deliver subtitles or captions to Silverlight clients sometime in 2010.
One reader, Chris, wasn't buying Netflix's explanation:
I am not personally affected by Netflix's lack of subtitles but from reading multiple deaf consumer's complaints about Netflix's lack of support of Closed Captions I can sympathize with their point of view. from a technological standpoint I would say that Netflix has totally failed. I've been able to view DivX movies with subtitles for at least 7+ years. And it in no way required bringing the text into the the video. In fact all it required was a simple time-stamped .txt file that took up maybe 10-20 KB (that is 0.001% the size of a normal Netflix movie). There should be ZERO reason why Netflui/Silverlight can't support the use of .SRT. files and be able to EASILY support CC in multiple languages. Quite frankly I think Netflix has really disappointed a non-significant size of its customer base and is hiding behind non-existent "technological difficulties" as an excuse.
Personally, I view Netflix's response with cautious optimism. After receiving thousands of inquiries about online captioning, Netflix now understands that its cavalier approach to the issue was unacceptable. Also, by publicly declaring that online captioning will be available in some format in "about a year," Netflix has committed itself to a particular date. If it fails to provide online captioning by July 2010, its reputation and perhaps share price will suffer.
To be continued...
Update on June 15, 2009: I forgot to add that celebrity Marlee Matlin gave her support to online captioning via Twitter:
[from her friend] I called Netflix and talked 2 one of corporate offices Over 8000 letters & phone calls about #caption this month! YES!!
Update on July 10, 2009: I recently tried to enjoy Gran Torino, but it didn't have TV captions or DVD subtitles. I called customer service, and she sent me another DVD after assuring me the DVD had captions. (NFLX lists Gran Torino as a closed captioned film.) The second DVD also didn't have captions.
I noticed the DVD cover was gray. It turns out that gray-colored DVDs are made specifically for Netflix and may be different from other publicly-sold DVDs. In this case, it appears the studio, Warner Brothers, didn't provide Netflix with a captioned DVD. No one had apparently figured this out. Netflix and its contract lawyers should ensure that all of its specially-issued DVDs have captions. Why would any studio want to prevent hearing impaired people from enjoying their product?
Update on April 18, 2010: Netflix has finally captioned some online videos, but only 100 so far. More here. Looking at hulu.com's options, which have included captioning and now transcripts, I am still disappointed with NFLX.