Meet the Company That Wants to be the Netflix for Blind People

Meet the Company That Wants to be the Netflix for Blind People

For years, advocates have been trying to make mainstream television more accessible to the visually impaired. TalkingFlix may be on the verge of doing just that.

By Kaitlin Roberts

The Week Magazine, April 8, 2014

Coming soon to a TV near you…

We’ve all been there: you’re hanging out with friends when the conversation
suddenly turns to the latest episode of House of Cards or the recent
Jennifer
Lawrence blockbuster. You haven’t seen this particular television show or
film,
so for the next fifteen minutes, while your friends dissect the plot and
recount
that hilarious moment, you’re left finding creative ways to stir your
coffee.

Television shows and movies constitute an enormous part of our culture, and
not
being in on the story can feel isolating. This is especially true for people
with visual impairments. Sure, the blind and visually impaired can listen to
a
movie or television show, but so much of what happens in the story from a
character’s subtle glance to a car exploding is visual.

Crossway Media Solutions is an online entertainment service working to make
films and television shows more accessible for people with disabilities.
This
year, the company will launch TalkingFlix, the first audio-described,
on-demand
entertainment service for those with visual impairments.

“Our main goal,” TalkingFlix head of content Ellen Pittleman tells The Week,
“is
accessibility. We want to help sighted and non-sighted populations have a
shared
social experience.”

According to Pittleman, who was a Paramount executive before joining
TalkingFlix, broadcast networks for years have been making audio tracks that
describe programming visuals. In April 2002, the Federal Communications
Commission (FCC) began requiring major networks to provide 50 hours of
described
programming per quarter. Disability advocates saw this new legislation as an
opportunity to approach film studios and encourage them to provide this
service
as well.

They quickly realized that the cost of creating these tracks was difficult
to
justify. “We were just about to release Titanic when I was at Paramount and
we
were approached,” Pittleman explains. “It was an important move for the
studio
to participate in providing this service because Titanic was to be our
biggest
DVD release ever. Unfortunately, in retrospect we found that the cost of
creating these tracks was often not being recovered by the sales.”

Most DVDs don’t include an audio menu, and movie theaters and streaming
services
are often set up for audio-described content. As a result, it didn’t make
sense
for studios to invest the time or money into making these tracks available.

Now, Pittleman is in the process of working with these production companies
to
recover some of those old tracks from studio libraries, while giving content
providers a market for creating such tracks. By bridging the gap between
studios
and consumers, TalkingFlix aims to offer hundreds of popular titles that
customers will be able to access on their televisions or mobile devices.

The idea behind TalkingFlix has a long backstory. The company’s CEO, David
Timar, is not blind, but is visually impaired and has close ties to the
blind

community. He built a career in the tech world, but he’s no stranger to the
film
industry. His father, Peter Timar, is a well-known Hungarian director

and tireless advocate for media accessibility.

“Growing up,” David Timar tells The Week, “I realized the problem my father
was
trying to solve was not a local problem, but a global one… My dad’s work
with
[the visually impaired] community help me understand the need.”

Timar came up with the idea to market audio-described tracks years ago, but
the
project only took off last year when an investor encouraged Timar to apply
for
seed funding.

Finding a consumer base should not be a problem. According to the FCC, there
are
approximately 25 million Americans and 289 million people worldwide with
visual
impairments. The bigger obstacle and the reason many companies have failed
to
tap into this niche market involves getting investors and the studios to
sign
up.

“The biggest challenge,” Timar says, “is telling investors we are going to
get
the content and being able to strike a deal with studios based on an
unprecedented market. It’s a back-and-forth game.”

TalkingFlix is in the process of closing its first deal, and if it succeeds,
it
will be the first company to overcome this hurdle, gaining access to a pool

of consumers that even bigger names like Netflix and Hulu haven’t reached.

The program plans to launch later this year, but you can sign up for the
service
now at the link below.

Gearing up for the launch, Timar and his team have several goals. In the
first
year, they hope to grow the library and make TalkingFlix available to the

English-speaking world as soon as possible. Long term, Timar says he wants
to
make audio-described content available to Spanish-speaking countries, India,
and
China.

“Eventually,” Timar says, “I would like TalkingFlix to be a household item
worldwide.”

http://theweek.com/article/index/259425/meet-the-company-that-wants-to-be-the-ne
tflix-for-blind-people

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