Braille Monitor                         October 2020

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Movie Enjoyment Made Easy: Innovations to Include All Subscribers at Netflix

by Greg Peters

From the Editor: Here is what President Riccobono said in introducing Mr. Peters:

As Federationists know, access to media and inclusion of positive images, authentic images of blind people in film is a concern of ours, as is our equal access to media. We have been proud to be working with Netflix on its audio description work, as well as other innovations it is considering. Our team of volunteers and also our staff have been engaged with Netflix on a number of fronts. This is the first time we've invited Netflix to be featured on our main convention stage. We're proud to have with us the chief product officer of Netflix. He's been in that position since July 2017. He leads the product team, which designs, builds, and optimizes the Netflix experience for all subscribers. Accessibility is a chief concern of his, and it's part of his responsibility at Netflix. Here to discuss the innovations at Netflix and potential work going forward is Greg Peters!

Well, thank you very much for that intro and that intro music. I am Greg Peters, chief product officer at Netflix. It's just a pleasure to be with you today, to be the first representative from Netflix to join the Federation. Thank you for that honor. I want to also thank the Federation for the partnership. We're excited about it, and we're excited about more to come. So thank you there.

At Netflix, we really do one thing: we're all about entertainment, and we aim to do it really, really well. We want to be the most amazing entertainment service that we can possibly be. Part of that commitment, and really that opportunity, is a belief that more and more people around the world should have their lives represented in the stories that we tell. That means working with the best storytellers on the planet, wherever they live, whatever language they speak, bringing a diverse set of experiences to the stories that we are producing and that they are telling. We want to give those storytellers the capability to tell their stories at the highest quality level in the most compelling way that we possibly can.

But it also means then connecting all of those stories with audiences, our members all over the world. To enable those connections to happen, and to happen broadly, we have a fundamental goal of accessibility. That goal has been built into our product and our technology DNA from day one. I was there at the very beginning. I can tell you, it's been a key factor to how we've grown as a company. It's really why we've been successful. So for us, that broadly is, it's a fundamental trait of what we do. It's not sort of a tacked-on afterthought. And because it's so important to us, we have tremendously ambitious goals around it. We aspire to have the best accessibility solution and coverage of any mainstream video entertainment service on the planet, full stop.

Now, we use the term accessibility in a very broad sense. It has many layers for us. But it all starts with streaming and the internet, really. Pioneering using the internet to stream has allowed us to unlock huge dimensions of accessibility and make entertainment accessible like it's never been before. First of all is just breaking down traditional barriers for content distribution and availability. It used to be that what you had access to was very limited country to country. Things would get distributed based on what was popular, and if you had interests that didn't match what was popular in that country, it was often very hard for you to find access to the stories that you wanted to hear. Now, obviously we enable our members also to have control over their entertainment experience. We're trying to break down some of those traditional constraints that have existed. A fundamental part of streaming is giving our members sort of on-demand control, so they can watch what they want to watch on their schedule. We also seek to be on a wide range of devices, pretty much any device that you can imagine, so that your entertainment is there when you want it, where you want it, and how you want it. We want to bring all of those benefits to everyone to serve all of our members. And there's a lot more that can be done to achieve that goal. But we're constantly innovating and continuing to increase the accessibility of our service.

An important tool that I love to talk about with our audience to do that, to increase that accessibility, is audio descriptions. We kicked off our initiative with regard to audio descriptions in 2015 with a title from Marvel called Daredevil, which seemed apropos, since it happened to feature a superhero who happened to be blind. We have increased the number of hours and languages we support. Today we support over ten thousand hours of audio description on Netflix globally. That includes most of our original shows and films in over thirty languages. We also do closed captions in all Netflix originals; that's mandatory for us, and we have up to thirty additional caption languages for each title. We have of course a place in the UI [User Interface] you can go to specifically to look for titles that have audio descriptions presented. Our goal there is to give members an easy way to access those titles. We also make sure the audio description identifier is on titles that have audio description available, so if you're browsing through a different portion of our user experience, listening to our recommendations, you would know which shows have that audio description available to you as well. As we continue to expand our originals offering, to grow our slate of local original content, that's content that's made outside of the United States and made in other languages, we're going to increase the availability of local language content that's accessible in original language as well as in other languages and accessible to people with hearing and vision impairments. Now, we always pass through all of the audio descriptions and closed captions that come with any content that we license and titles that we license. But we also source or create additional assets when they aren't available for a given title when we think there's going to be demand. So we're out there either building that ourselves or contracting with someone to make sure that we're finding assets across different languages to make that available.

We also make sure that our service is compatible with all major screen-reading platforms, and we require text-to-speech capabilities for all Netflix-recommended TV. This is a badge that we put on those TVs that we think are best for our members. We work with our device manufacturing partners to evaluate them. If you buy any TV with that badge, you can rest assured that it has the required text-to-speech capabilities included with it, and we've tested that with the device manufacturer.

Now, we are in the entertainment business. And we don't want to lose that sense of entertainment and fun and creativity in making our titles accessible. We think of that as just part of the process, a regular part of the process of creating these shows, and it requires just as much creative craft as all the other pieces that go into making an excellent show or movie. So, for example, we have an audio description AD specialist, writers who take into account the genre of the story, the audience, the tone of the story, the atmosphere, as well as film techniques, sound and music cues. They're putting that all together to produce a script for the audio description, and we have an AD director who ensures that the language that's used in the narration is linguistically accurate and that the voice fits the tone of the scene being described. You can see our narrators might be more lively during a fight scene. They might be more somber during a funeral scene. It's essentially just another stage of direction that we think is just like directing the actors in this scene.

Of course the right talent is key here as well. We select and bring on board the right AD narrator for every particular film or series. We are thinking about the age of the AD narrator. That should match the content and age of the intended audience. Imagine a teenage voice that's appropriate for young adult content like Never Have I Ever. Kids titles will typically have a younger sounding AD narrator. Sometimes we make an exception for very young children's content, where we might want a more nurturing adult's voice. But we try to match it to the content to make it work best.

We also think about how the voice works from distinguishability and comprehensibility. Imagine a show that's dominated by male characters. We may actually pick an AD narrator that's actually a female voice to increase the contrast and make it more distinct and easier to follow. Imagine with Sacred Games or Narcos, we have that female voice for the contrast. But sometimes we want more of a complement, so we often have female narrators, say, narrate strong female lead stories. We always think about the best match, the best fit. We also think about the narrator's voice texture, even when selecting them for a title. Imagine for a love story we might be looking for a sort of happy, mellifluous voice that we think will pair well. We've taken that and put it into an extensive guideline for creation of audio description to capture all those aspects. We use those obviously for the work we do, but we've also made those guidelines public. We've made them available to our competitors, peer services, the industry, the content partners we work with, so that the best practices are available to everyone, and we can really improve the entire industry and how it responds to the situation.

That really typifies what we're doing, which is trying to lean into a community approach to improve our offering and to improve the industry at large. We're proud to develop and maintain strong partnerships with organizations like the National Federation of the Blind. Our goal is to leverage the expertise of those who understand these experiences and can help us improve them. So for example, we're innovating on video format storytelling with these interactive titles. We've done half a dozen of them so far. It's an early initiative. But we took one of those titles, Bandersnatch, an early interactive title targeted at adults, one of the first that we did. At the time of launch, it wasn't a great experience for our members who are blind or visually impaired. But we partnered with NFB and Lighthouse for the Blind to improve that experience, and, based on what we've learned from that process, we've implemented a system to ensure our interactive content is easily accessible for all future releases at the time that we launch it. That's just an example of the many kinds of improvements we want to make.

We know that Netflix and really all media companies have room to improve the ability of our services to be accessible by all our current and future members. That's why we have created an internal group at Netflix focused on accessibility. We call it Accessibility at Netflix—not a very creative name, but it's to the point. We use that to get our teams across all functions in the company thinking about accessibility, thinking about accessibility across all dimensions of the product, but also about all of the work that we do, all of the business operations that we do. Just to give you an example of what that group is working on now, they're really thinking about the title discovery and playback experiences that we have, and working to make those as effortless and enjoyable as possible for those using assistive technology. We have a good roadmap ahead of that and many things we'll work on next as well.

At Netflix, we're passionate about delivering amazing entertainment. We're passionate about delivering a diverse set of stories and content, and we're passionate about it because we believe that storytelling is an important part of what it means to be human. We believe that great art tells many different stories from many different perspectives and that many different experiences can help build empathy, understanding, proximity, and reduce prejudice. We think it can increase happiness in the world through connections. But all that only happens—you only get those benefits—when the stories you're telling are accessible for everyone. So we're going to continue to innovate and collaborate to make our service work for everyone.

I want to thank you for having me with you today. I really appreciate it. And I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference. Thank you very much.

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