Netflix to add closed captioning to all streaming content

Michelle Clancy | 12-10-2012

Settling a lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf, Netflix has agreed to offer closed captioning on all streaming video by September 2014.

The deal, approved today by U.S. District Court Judge Michael A. Ponsor in Massachusetts, also requires Netflix to pay $755,000 in attorneys' fees and court costs.

The National Association of the Deaf alleged that Netflix violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by failing to provide closed-captioning. Netflix disagreed, arguing that its status as an online video provider did not classify it as a "place of public accommodation," thus exempting it from the closed-captioning requirement. The court did not see it that way.

The company, which serves around 25 million subscribers, made the most of the settlement. "We have worked consistently to make the broadest possible selection of titles available to Netflix members who are deaf or hard of hearing and are far and away the industry leader in doing so," said Neil Hunt, Netflix Chief Product Officer, in a statement. "We are pleased to have reached this agreement and hope it serves as a benchmark for other providers of streaming video entertainment."

In the decree, Netflix must caption 90% of its content by 30 September, 2013 and 100% by 30 September 2014. Netflix says that 82% of their content is captioned already.

"Netflix will maintain on its website a list or similar identification of on-demand streaming content with conforming captions and subtitles. Netflix will provide an option to either sort or filter the list by title, year, maturity rating, and genre. Netflix's obligation to maintain this list will expire on October 1, 2014, by which point conforming captions or subtitles will be available on 100% of on-demand streaming content," the settlement reads.

Netflix has also agreed to become more timely in captioning new content added after the 2014 deadline. By 30 September 2015, Netflix must caption all new content within 15 days. By 2016, Netflix must provide captioning on all content within one week of its appearance in the library, with the goal of providing simultaneous captioning with all new content.

"The National Association of the Deaf congratulates Netflix for committing to 100% captioning, and is thrilled to announce that 48 million deaf and hard of hearing people will be able to fully access Netflix's Watch Instantly services," said NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum in a statement.