Michelle Hedley: Is it too much to ask DVD rental companies to provide subtitle information on their websites?

Posted on October 16, 2013

Over the years the way technology has exploded has benefited me in many ways. One way was the introduction of subtitles to DVDs and the birth of DVD rental through the post, by companies like LOVEFiLM.

I soon realised that this meant that I could re-watch series/films from my late childhood to teens but this time with subtitles, in addition to recent releases. For several years I have enjoyed access to DVDs with subtitles and remained loyal to Tesco (powered by LOVEFiLM) as more and more companies joined the bandwagon.

I joined Tesco as a customer primarily because as a deaf viewer I require subtitles in order to watch DVDs. Despite there being several other companies in the market at that time, Tesco were the only one who displayed the subtitles information in their titles listings.

Whilst their catalogue did not display the information on every DVD they stocked, a good proportion did include the information. Therefore I was able to make a reasonably informed choice about which ones to select and rent.

Over the years I adopted the principle that I would only place DVDs in my rental list that the website indicated carried subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing. This would ensure that I did not “waste” any of my allocations on DVDs that were inaccessible without subtitles. This worked perfectly well (with just the odd hiccup with incorrect information displayed) for me and I have enjoyed “going to the cinema” in my own home.

On 1 August 2012 everything changed. The Tesco DVD rental scheme changed ownership in both name and website content. In an email direct to all former Tesco customers I was assured: “What do customers need to do? Absolutely nothing! We’ll take care of all the details, and the transition should be a very smooth one. Just carry on using the service exactly as you have been doing, and enjoy all the great new benefits this move will bring.”

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that that was not the case for me.  I realised that the technical section of the titles no longer displayed the subtitling information that I as a deaf customer had relied upon.

This meant that I was now unable to add any more titles to my rental list as I could not be certain they would carry subtitles or not and would run the risk of paying for DVDs I could not view. As a result of the ownership change I was not able to carry on using the service exactly as I had been and was being prevented from fully accessing the service.

I contacted LOVEFiLM and asked them to reinstate the subtitling information to enable access. Their response was that the information seen on the product pages for each title is provided directly from the Distributors of the films themselves and therefore could not be provided. The point I was making was missed completely as I was referring to the fact that prior to 1 August, this information was shown against the titles so it was pointless blaming the distributors for not providing this!

A conversation (by email) went back and forth with LOVEFiLM insisting that both websites provided the same information. Despite making a formal complaint, it soon became a stalemate.

I then saw that in America Deaf groups had succeeded with making Netflix (an online streaming service) provide captioned access (although their issue was providing actual subtitles rather than information). I contacted Action on Hearing Loss asking them to help with this issue as I felt there was clear discrimination against deaf viewers but was powerless to fight them on my own.

AOHL promised to look into this and set up a meeting with LOVEFiLM. That was back in October 2012 and after a chase up email to them in January 2013 I have yet to hear anything more from them other than advising me not to take them on legally on my own.

The issue here is the fact that Tesco DVD Rental were providing access to their service by providing subtitling information on their titles.  Then as LOVEFiLM finally took complete ownership, that accessibility was taken away from deaf customers.

LOVEFiLM has now been taken over by Amazon and there are no other companies I can turn to in order to rent DVDs. I feel utterly powerless to do anything about this and sadly this seems to be another case of the big corporations riding roughshod over peoples rights.

I am not unreasonable, I am not asking for more subtitles (although of course in an ideal world that would be fantastic!) I just ask for the subtitling information to be displayed as it was previously.

Is that really too big an ask?

Michelle is a Geordie originally from Tyneside, now living just inside the border of Northumberland. She loves discovering music and also has a love of the theatre, especially musicals. She’s a fan of science-fiction, watches anything on TV that is subtitled, and is now reliving her childhood renting DVDs! She is also a geocacher, and is on Twitter as @Shelle02

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