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.”