Muse Reporting on the arts and culture

Walmart gives video filtering a boost

Entertainment | The retail giant’s new service illustrates the high demand for family-friendly content
by Lynde Langdon
Posted 9/27/19, 03:49 pm

Parents who want to protect their children from TV violence, sex, and crude language gained another ally this month. Walmart unveiled content filtering on its streaming platform, Vudu, which offers free and paid access to popular movies and TV.

Previously, Vudu users could block shows and films based on their content ratings. But objectionable material has found its way into lower-rated shows and movies through the years, and letting children watch something rated PG no longer guarantees they won’t see violence, language, or relationships unsuitable for their age. Vudu lets users set the streaming app to mute or skip inappropriate lines and scenes in more than 500 PG and PG-13 shows.

“We’ve heard from customers that they’re concerned about what their family can browse and watch on Vudu,” Jeremy Verba, vice president and general manager of Vudu, told Variety.

The Provo, Utah, company VidAngel heard the same concerns from customers years ago and tried to establish a way for families to filter and watch Hollywood shows. VidAngel’s initial service model launched in 2015 and involved a complicated checkout, check-in system for DVDs. That system garnered the wrath of screen giants such as Disney and Warner Bros., and a yearslong legal battle over copyright followed. VidAngel entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2017 and ditched the DVD system for a streaming platform—without content from Disney or Warner Bros.

This month, a federal judge in California issued a permanent injunction ordering VidAngel not to filter any work owned by a parent, subsidiary, or affiliate of Disney or Warner Bros., which could cover a massive chunk of content, including shows on ABC, Hulu, and HBO. The judge also ordered VidAngel to pay $62.4 million to the studios, though how much the company has to pay in the end will depend on appeals and the bankruptcy outcome.

“It is beyond ironic that a company named after Walt Disney would sue to prevent the filtering of graphic sex, violence, profanity and other explicit content from movies,” Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, said earlier this year.

Somehow, Walmart and Vudu have so far avoided legal action from movie studios. Vudu’s Verba told Variety that Walmart worked with the studios to develop its filtering feature, called Family Play.

“They understand we’re enabling the customer to make choices—we’re not making choices for them,” he said. Family Play works similar to VidAngel, but with less customizable filters. In Vudu, users have the option to mute “language,” while VidAngel offers language filters such as blasphemous, profane, crude, discriminatory, or sexual—actual, implied, and innuendo. VidAngel also filters R- and TV-MA–rated content.

VidAngel wishes Walmart and Vudu all the best, CEO Neal Harmon said: “For them to jump into the game is hugely validating to what we’ve done.”

Associated Press/Photo by Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures Associated Press/Photo by Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros. Pictures Joaquin Phoenix in a scene from Joker

All joking aside

Relatives of the victims of a 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., are raising an alarm about the upcoming movie Joker, a portrait of Batman’s insane archnemesis. Twelve people died and 70 were injured in the shooting at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, also a Batman movie. Convicted gunman James Holmes is serving a life sentence for the killings.

Five people who lost loved ones expressed their concern about Joker on Tuesday in a letter to Warner Bros. “When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called Joker that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” they wrote. They asked the studio to lobby Congress for gun control, support survivor programs, and end any contributions to politicians backed by the National Rifle Association.

Warner Bros. responded with a statement saying the movie did not endorse violence: “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”

A U.S. Army base in Oklahoma said they received an intelligence bulletin regarding disturbing online chatter about a possible mass shooting at a theater during the Joker release Oct. 4. The Los Angeles Police Department said it planned to increase its presence at movie theaters the weekend of the premiere, though it had not received any credible threats about a specific target. —L.L.

Associated Press/Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures-Sony Associated Press/Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Columbia Pictures-Sony Tom Holland in a scene from Spider-Man: Homecoming

Entertainment notes

  • Spider-Man can remain an Avenger. Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures Entertainment, which owns the rights to the character, announced Friday they had agreed to work together on a third Spider-Man movie set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The deal relieved fans who enjoyed seeing Spider-man appear alongside Marvel characters such as Iron Man in recent movies.
  • DreamWorks just released Abominable, an animated film that, based on reviews, sounds like little more than visually dazzling tourism ad for China. WORLD’s Mary Jackson has written about how U.S. movie studios pander to Chinese government censors, and it sounds like Abominable fits the pattern.
  • This week, a judge ordered Bill Cosby to pay a Los Angeles law firm $2.75 million in legal fees owed for his criminal defense. The comedian has spent one year of his three-to-10-year sentence in prison on a sexual abuse charge. —L.L.
Lynde Langdon

Lynde is a WORLD Digital’s managing editor and reports on popular and fine arts. She lives in Wichita, Kan., with her husband and two daughters. Follow Lynde on Twitter @lmlangdon.

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    Posted: Sun, 09/29/2019 01:10 pm

    Hey, we have watched RED and sequels more than once, and it does seem like fun to shoot guns. Just think of the video games where children shoot guns. In the old days we watched stuff like Leave It To Beaver where they taught children to be nice. We didn't feel like shooting at people after watching Happy Days. HOLLYWOOD just don't get it do they?

    Maybe in the future BIG BROTHER (Socialist Dems) will decide we need to watch more of Leave It To Beaver, unless of course you are in the military and then they will show the guns movies. Scarey thought!

    The big answer for people who say, "you must socialize your child." We did. Volunteered in many things. She also did other stuff when she became an adult. She loves helping people find stuff in the library. Unfortunately I was a TVholic so we had plenty of TV when she was young. And now she is hooked, but discerning. RED is one of her favorites. It is sad that they make fun of shooting at people. Too many movies are like that.

    My favorite Beaver episode was when his teacher came to dinner. She wore a sleeveless dress and Beaver had trouble escorting her to the table by her naked arm. And she wore shoes where her toes showed through. Too funny.

    Posted: Sun, 09/29/2019 12:59 pm

    Maybe NOT having a TV or cable when your child is born would be the answer to what Hollywood is streaming into your home. And NOT letting them go to someone else's house where they will be indoctrinated into the stuff that you might try to keep them from. Invite the kids to your house where you can chaparone them. 

    You homeschool and then let your children hang out with kids from public school? Even at church the children in Sunday School are taught in public school. It's not just peer pressure. Drugs are sold by "Christian" children in Christian schools. We let our child go to Sunday School and then found out her teacher is a staunch Dem. Blew my mind.