20 June 2011 ~ Comments

Lawsuits for Media Giants

Last week, both Netflix and CNN felt the impact of their lack of captioning, when activist groups brought lawsuits claiming discrimination. It’s a lesson all content providers, both large and small, could learn from.

On June 15, a class-action suit was brought against Time Warner in Alameda, CA. The next day, the National Association of the Deaf filed a civil suit against Netflix in federal court in U.S. District Court in Springfield, MA.

Both suits show that hard-of-hearing individuals continue to fight for equal access to information that hearing people may take for granted.

The suit against Time Warner alleges discrimination against the more than 100,000 hearing impaired people who live in California. The suit says that CNN.com, a subsidiary of TW, is a major source for that content, with daily traffic in the tens of millions of visitors. According to the suit, more than 67 million people visited the site in a single day following the tsunami in Japan. But those with hearing loss missed the full picture, since CNN doesn’t caption its online content.

At any given time, CNN.com is host to hundreds of videos. Some of those appeared on the air fully captioned, but the captions don’t translate to the Internet. Captions can be costly, and analysts say CNN may have skirted the captioning requirements by providing written transcripts for many videos posted on CNN.com. But members of the deaf community say that’s not good enough. The suit alleges that the script often varies from the content of the video, and keeps hearing-impaired people in the dark.

Supporters of online captioning say that all people should have on–demand, 24-hour access to news and information.

Netflix is in the same boat, in trouble with the deaf community for not captioning enough of its streaming, “watch instantly” content. Many of the instant programs are captioned, but more are not. Netflix officials have said since 2009 that they’re trying to work out technical difficulties to get all programming captioned, but viewers are growing increasingly impatient. Supporters of the suit say if some programs can be captioned, they all can, and sooner is better than later.

Captioning advocates say leaving a big portion of the population out of the entertainment loop contributes to the stigma and isolation that already exists for people with a hearing loss.

It is sometimes a struggle to provide captions, but all content providers – whether multinational conglomerates or local mom-and-pop shops – need to weigh the pros and cons of captioning. They need to consider the cost to their reputations when they appear to disregard potential customers who are only asking for basic access.

We’re in the midst of an unstoppable trend toward 24-hour, on-demand, online programming, and providers will eventually have no choice but to get on the boat or miss it entirely. It would be in the best interest of all for content providers to dive into full captioning as quickly as they can. There’s a huge population out here just waiting to become loyal customers.

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