Netflix needs to offer subtitles on instant titles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing

Movie renting has changed dramatically in a short time. Video rental stores are a dying industry, and online viewing is surely the future of movie-watching as TV and internet continues to become more and more integrated.  One thing that will never change, however, is the need for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to be able to enjoy movies and TV shows the same way other people do.

Netflix, which lets you rent DVDs by mail, also provides “instant watching” – according to Netflix.com, 66% of its users used the instant watch feature in the third quarter of 2010.  Only 41 percent used it a year before, so that number will only increase (and could, conceivably, be the only way to rent movies one day).

According to InstantWatcher.com, Netflix currently offers 11,619 titles to watch instantly.  That’s 11,619 movies and TV shows that you can watch online (with a computer, Wii, XBox or PS3) with a Netflix account.

According to this blog, only 300 of those titles offer English subtitles (also known as “captions”) for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  The list gets updated often, and as someone who’s tried to watch numerous movies instantly on Netflix, I’d have to say it’s very accurate.

To put it simply – only 2.5% of the instant watch titles can be viewed with subtitles.  In other words, 35 million deaf and hard-of-hearing Americans can only enjoy 2.5% of the movies Netflix offers instantly.

Since 1993, the FCC has required all televisions to have built-in closed captioning readers. Federal law also requires American film distributors to caption all movies prior to their release. And don’t try and tell me that online streaming video is different. Last year, even YouTube started offering subtitles for its free video-sharing site including “automatic captioning” for users that don’t provide their own subtitles.

Netflix has promised to offer more titles with subtitles, but in seven months have only improved from 100 titles to 300.  Not good enough, Netflix.  2.5 percent of all movies and TV shows is an abysmal amount.

Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin posted a video on AOL asking the 35 million deaf and hard-of-hearing people in America to “make noise” and be heard. Matlin, among other roles, was the deaf tennis lineswoman in an episode of “Seinfeld.”

“If you see something isn’t right, if there’s a law out there that doesn’t make sense,” said Matlin, “do anything you can to speak your mind to it, don’t be alone… make yourself heard.”

I’m making myself be heard, Netflix.  If you’re going to offer movies as instant titles, you need to offer them in a way that everyone can enjoy them – with subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing.  Thank you.

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