Netflix and Time Warner Sued Over Lack of Closed Captioning

The National Association of the Deaf recently filed a lawsuit against Netflix and Time Warner for failing to provide closed captions on their online video offerings. According to the lawsuit, less than 5 percent of videos offered over Netflix streaming contain closed captions. The Time Warner lawsuit targets the lack of closed captioning on CNN’s online videos.

The odd thing is that Netflix has in the past blamed technological difficulties for the lack of captioning. According to Reuters,

In 2009, Netflix Chief Product Officer Neil Hunt reported on the company blog that technological difficulties were hindering its attempt to add captions to streaming video. The advocacy group argued that captioning is technically possible, pointing to titles already captioned.

That is apparently a reference to this blog post in which Hunt wrote,

Encoding a separate stream for each title is not an option – it takes us about 500 processor-months to make one encode through the entire library, and for this we would have to re-encode four different formats. Duplicating the encoded streams is prohibitive in space too.

So we are working on optionally delivering the SAMI file (Synchronized Accessible Media Interchange), or similar, to the client, and having it render the text and then overlay it on the video at playback time. Unfortunately, the tools for rendering SAMI files in Silverlight, or in CE (Consumer Electronics) devices, are weak or non-existent, and there is some technology development required.

I would expect to deliver subtitles or captions to Silverlight clients sometime in 2010, and roll the same technology out to each CE device as we are able to migrate the technology, and work with the CE manufacturer to deliver firmware updates for each player.

That is absurd. By that I don’t meant that it isn’t correct — Microsoft Silverlight was always full of fail and Netflix committed to moving toward HTML5 back in 2010. Rather it is the frequency with which the technological objection is raised in issues like this.

Accessibility is an issue that should be easily addressable by contemporary technologies in a way that wasn’t possible in the past (or at least much more cheaply and seamlessly than in the past). Instead software companies keep churning out products that actually take us several step backwards and often make it much harder to implement accessibility.

If I walked into someone’s office and pitched a new Internet-based collaboration tool that was the bee’s knees except for the fact that it wouldn’t allow people in one state to collaborate with employees in another state, I’d be laughed out of the room. But walk in with a system that works great except that it is completely unusable by blind or deaf people and nobody seems to give a shit.

We need to do a better job of holding developers’ feet to the fire on this one. Having a system that can’t accommodate blind or deaf people isn’t only a legal and moral issue, but its also a failure of imagination on the part of those developing these technologies. Really, you want me to spend thousands to millions of dollars on these systems and you’re not skilled enough to make them accessible to the blind and deaf? Not impressed.

Not Exactly Deep Throat

CNN’s story on the leaking of the new Wolverine film a month before its scheduled release made me giggle. Half the time I think the reason reporters rely so much on anonymous sources is less that anonymity is the only way to get people to talk, and moreso that relying on anonymous sources lends a romanticism to such reporting. It’s almost like being a spy, relying on hidden contacts and subterfuge.

How else to explain some of the bizarre things that get credited to anonymous sources.  For example, look at the amazing scoop Alan Duke gets from an anonymous industry source on the ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ leak,

Removing the pirated files from the Internet may prove an impossible challenge, an industry source said. This source did not want to be named because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

Although the studio said it was removed from the Web site that first hosted it, the digital file has probably been downloaded tens of thousands of times, the source said.

“It’s not removed from the Internet,” the industry source said. “It’s still there.”

. . .

Whether the leaked video will eventually hurt the film’s box office earnings “is very difficult to discern,” according to CNN’s source.

Seriously? Some industry flak didn’t want to go on record as saying it “is very difficult to discern” what effect the leak will have on the box office, and CNN went along with that? What’s next, “Anonymous source suggests Sun will likely rise in the West tomorrow”?

Lou Dobbs and Cokie Roberts — Where Do They Find These People?

Warning: gratuitous ad hominems ahead.

I love the title of this article by CNN’s resident nativist commentator, Lou Dobbs.

The headline, “Do you takes us for fools?” echoes a question in the text of the article where Dobbs asks, “How dumb do you think all think we are?”

Frankly, every time I watch Dobbs I see him set new lows for intelligence in homo sapiens so I’m not sure there is a straightforward answer to that question.

He’s like Pat Buchanan minus the wit, which must take a lot of work.

Not that the ranks of those in favor of looser immigration lots aren’t filled with half-wits either. Cokie and Steven Roberts with the award there with this April 2006 flourish (emphasis added),

The anti-immigration forces have taken one principle, law and order (tinged with a rancid whiff of xenophobia), and elevated it over every other principle — loyalty and patriotism, charity and courage. That was the calculation behind the noxious bill that passed the House last winter, which makes it a crime to live here illegally or even to help a paperless alien.

Living here illegally might be made a crime? Perish the thought!

Of course, Cokie once stood in front a blue screen for a “live” broadcast from the White House, so she’s not exactly the brightest light bulb in the box anyway. But seriously, can’t she get anyone to edit her stuff to remove obvious nonsense like that?

Too bad they’re on different networks, or the immigration debate could really be taken up a notch by having Lou interview Cokie in front of a blue-screened image of Mexico City.


Dobbs to President: Do you take us for fools? Lou Dobbs, CNN, May 10, 2006.

Today we march, tomorrow we vote. Cokie and Steven Roberts, The Daily Dunklin Democrat, April 16, 2006.

CNN=Hypocrites ‘R Us

This blog entry at Anderson Cooper’s 360 blog makes me want to puke. There’s nothing like self-righteous broadcast journalists who can’t be bothered to align their principles with action.

The post refers to the Lord’s Resistance Army, one of the most violent and detestable insurgent movements in the world. The LRA is half guerilla outfit, half millenarian movement — it is notable for the fact that it specifically targets children for kidnapping. Sometimes the children are brainwashed and forced to serve in the LRA. Female abducttes are regularly subject to sexual abuse. And sometimes the LRA simply kills the children it kidnaps (in 2003, for example, its members bludgeoned to death 9 children it had earlier kidnapped).

On the 360 blog Jeff Koinange writes (emphasis added),

Word of mouth is still an effective tool in the 21st century. The next step is to write to your congressman, your senator, your elected leaders. Tell them of this horror that exists in our time and make some noise. Lots of noise. That’s the only way to keep stories like this on the “front burner.” Otherwise, people quickly forget once the “kids” are off the evening news.

WTF? When is the LRA ever in the evening news? When was the last time you turned on CNN Headlines News or CNN and the lead story — or any story — about the LRA? Most Americans have never heard of the LRA because a guerilla movement that targets kids just isn’t as newsworthy as Lindsey Lohan.

In fact, I would bet $100 that CNN spent more hours covering the Dick Cheney hunting accident than it has spent in total coverage on the LRA in the news network’s 27 years.

But then I guess even CNN has to have priorities. The only way to make people take action against the LRA is to tell the world about their crimes — just don’t expect anyone to do it on CNN.

CNN Gets Screwed By Anonymous Source

If it weren’t so emblematic of the news media in general, these paragraphs from a CNN story would be funny,

Meanwhile, a source told CNN that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld never approved a controversial interrogation technique called “water boarding.” That source had told CNN the opposite Monday.

The senior defense official who provided the original information to CNN now says Rumsfeld only approved “mild, noninjurious physical contact” with a high-level al Qaeda detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and specifically did not approve a request to use water boarding.

How stupid does CNN think its readers/viewers are?

Okay, so on Monday CNN runs a story saying that Rumsfeld personally approved the general use of water boarding for prisoners at Guantanamo. One day later, CNN’s story is that the source lied to them on Monday, but should be believed on Tuesday that Rumsfeld only approved water boarding for a single prisoner. That, by the way, wasn’t news — the Washington Post reported earlier this month that Rumsfeld approved using a number of more severe interrogation tactics on Mohamed al Qahtani who the government believes was to have been the 20th hijacker in the 9/11 attacks.

Like most (all?) anonymous sources, this Pentagon official had an agenda and was basically using CNN for his or her own purposes. CNN and other news media are happy to go along, even when it leads to embarassing backtracking like this.

It’s interesting to note that despite all of the talk about the judicial review of the legality of torture, etc., that ultimately the working group that Rumsfeld chaired approved only seven interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo that weren’t already part of standard U.S. military doctrine. According to the Washington Post,

Seven of those approved techniques are not included in U.S. military doctrine, and are listed as: “change of scenery up; change of scenery down; dietary manipulation; environmental manipulation; sleep adjustment (reversal) ; isolation for 30 days”; and a technique known as “false flag,” or deceiving a detainee into believing he is being interrogated by someone from another country.

Most of those tactics require interrogators notifying their commanders ahead of time that they plan to use them.


Guantanamo List Details Approved Interrogation Methods. Dana Priest and Bradley Graham, Washington Post, June 10, 2004.

Lou Dobbs Needs to Pay Attention

CNN’s Lou Dobbs apparently is spending so much time these days worrying that some Mexican immigrant is going to take his job that he can’t be bothered to keep up with other events in the news. From CNN yesterday,

DOBBS: And, in contrast, Ron, Senator Kerry was quick to disavow the deserter language that was used by one of his prominent supporters, I believe Michael Moore.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, that was actually one of Wesley Clark supporters.

In fact Kerry has had his supporters raising this issue and when asked about it directly pleads that he is agnostic on the issue and simply doesn’t know whether or not it’s true but that it is a legitimate question to be raised.

Personally, I doubt the Bush’s National Guard service will be any more of an issue than it was in 2000 or that Bill Clinton’s efforts to avoid the draft affected him.