Over the last few months, we have been trying to get a definitive answer about whose responsibility is it to provide audio description during production, and after production and broadcasting. It has taken a while to get answers to these questions because it’s a very complicated matter simply because audio description is not as mainstreamed as we all would like audio description to be. Since it is very new naturally, one person appeared to handle it but it turns out that the person initially contacted doesn’t handle audio description at all, even the legal aspect, but here’s an email to try! This process repeated for several months. The good thing, however, is that we finally have a definitive answer regarding audio description on all sides, the TV side and the web side of things.
The text below is from a team member, who wishes to remain nameless, that explains audio description in the past, and going forward, as far as the TV network side of things. We have been utilizing all of our connections to get this answer.
Moving forward on new T.V. Shows and Movies, it will be the studios responsibility to handle the described video. On older titles the studios, production companies, and networks are all arguing over whose responsibility it is to provide described video, and of course this is nowhere near a resolution. The issue on future shows and movies is also complicated as the work for described video is costly, and there is a writer guild issue, meaning will the Described Video that is being provided for a movie or television show is considered Writers Guild work or nonunion work? Obviously again this is a compensation issue and nothing has been determined as of yet. While this all sounds like a lot, the good that I take away from all of this is that Described Video is on the Studios and Production Houses radar and I’m sure all of this will be settled the next time contract negotiations with the WGA takes place.
It’s no question that the people who are responsible for producing audio description are, as the above said, the studios. They have to actively engage in audio description, that means contacting audio description companies and working with them up until production and even, in some cases, after. Once it airs on TV and in movies. studios have definitely done what they needed to do by way of audio description and don’t need to do anything more. Since the studios included audio description on the TV show and or movie they are not responsible for other forms of media to provide the same audio description on other platforms. That responsibility lies with a different party altogether.
In the beginning stages of the project we have tried to contact Netflix about adding audio description to their streaming TV shows and movies, thinking that it was their responsibility to provide audio description onto their platform since the audio description that we wanted to see, current audio description that was on TV, on Netflix as well. They have sent us email after email pointing fingers at the studios that produce these shows. They told us repeatedly that audio description on their service didn’t have anything to do with their decisions. Naturally, this didn’t make any sense since, if it was broadcasted with audio description elsewhere then Netflix would have to be responsible since they are distributing content that has audio description elsewhere and not on their platform.
They kept telling us no, that they are not, and or would never be responsible for providing audio description on their platform. This is incorrect. Netflix are, without a doubt, responsible. We’re just not sure why they don’t want to do it. We’re not sure why they keep pointing the finger at the TV studios when the studios have done what they needed to do and provide audio description for their respected platform. In this case, on TV. It’s Netflix who should be asking for those audio description tracks along with the TV show files but they are not and they keep telling everyone who asks about it that they are not responsible. This is a bold-faced lie. They are, without a doubt, responsible. They just don’t want to admit that they are responsible nor provide audio description.
Since Netflix is hosting the content that has audio description elsewhere and not on their platform they are definitely responsible for ensuring that the content has audio description on their platform as well.
Netflix definitely has a responsibility to provide it if an already described track is available. Since we know who does what and who’s in charge of what going forward, this will be a good way to tell Netflix that the people who you need to be talking to are clearly defined and also, that you are not doing it at all. It’s the studio’s job to make the audio description. They have done so, and are even broadcasting it on TV. The responsibility to distribute audio description on different platforms lies within the platform creator. In this case it would be Reed. He’s the creator of the platform. Netflix are actively not making any efforts at all to have audio description.
As a side note, they are not making any accessibility initiatives either, for screen reader and magnifier users, on the desktop environment and on the mobile side of things but that will be for a different blog post.
Since Netflix have refused to provide audio description and, also, provide a fully accessible interface, we are asking for your help more than ever. Let them know they are responsible but they are refusing to be responsible. Be sure to let other video on demand companies know this is wrong and we hope other video on demand services don’t follow in Netflix’s business practice. We hope that other video on demand services do not make this kind of business practice their own. Everyone should be able to enjoy the same content as others.