Category Archives: Technology

Full Roku App is Back! (BETA)

To our loyal VidAngel customers,

 

I am coming to the end of my 7th year working on the engineering side of VidAngel, and to say it’s been a difficult road would be putting it mildly. But I don’t need to tell that to  any of you. I know from the hundreds of films and television episodes I’ve watched with my family that the technical experience of finding and viewing content on VidAngel always seems to trend somewhere between glitchy and impossible.

We are on the 6th iteration of trying to make families and the studios happy! We want to focus less on litigation and more on our customers.

Even with the herculean efforts of our technical teams, we realize that over the past few months things have changed for the worse, and it’s because we’ve failed on a couple fundamental tasks:

 

1)    We lost our focus on the transparency you need in order to trust us, and

2)    We have given your feedback about the direction our products are going far less weight than  we should have. 

 

So, as we try to right the ship as an engineering company, I thought it would be helpful to first give a bit of background. We often get questions asking how our technology works, and while every detail is publicly available, it isn’t an easy follow. So let’s change that.

 

For example, in order to watch a Netflix or Amazon title on VidAngel, we have to verify you have the rights, through one of those services, to view it. And in order to verify those rights, our systems need to “talk” with the systems from Amazon or Netflix. This works just like a web browser … in fact, it is a web browser. When you hit the “play” button in VidAngel, we create a web browser in the cloud that uses your specific Netflix or Amazon account to navigate to that title. From there we verify that your subscription is still active,  you’ve paid your rental/purchase fee, you’re in the right geographic location, or any other requirement that might be in place for you to legally be able to watch Amazon and Netflix content (and thus filter it).

 

Neither Amazon or Netflix is in the filtering business, and they have a vested interest in building their apps in ways that work for their goals, needs, and customers, without regard for what effects changes might have on a system like I described above. Changes to their websites may have adverse effects on how VidAngel’s systems communicate with those of Netflix or Amazon.

 

This would not be an issue if we did not always ask Amazon and Netflix if you have access to watch the content. We have taken enormous and continual care to prevent people from watching any title with VidAngel filters when these verifications aren’t rock solid. We know that, if we want the media industry to believe we are fighting for the individual and family right to watch however works best for them, we need to respect the decisions they make about their products and content as well. And this is one of the major reasons why the VidAngel playback experience is often so up-and-down. 

 

This brings us to the middle of March, just several months ago when we were at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. At some point early in that month, Amazon Prime Video deployed a change to their systems that fundamentally altered our ability to verify our customers’ rights to legally watch and filter a title from Amazon’s services. This in no way means that we had been doing anything improper or untoward, or even that we’d been using our cloud browsers to navigate their site incorrectly.It was just a change they needed to make, and we were faced with a choice. We could turn off our Amazon filtering services until we had adjusted them to work with their changes (given that choosing to operate and serve Amazon content without verifying every single user ownership was never an option we would consider), or we could accelerate the rollout of a new product we’d been working on, one that communicated with Amazon and Netflix’s apps through your mobile phone rather than through a browser in the cloud.

 

Out of expediency, we chose the latter option. We had been working on the prototypes for several months already, and we wanted to get it into the hands of our customers as quickly as possible. Our new app is different in many ways, but one of the most crucial differences is that, by using your phone and your home wifi network, we can communicate even more clearly with Netflix and Amazon as to who is requesting to watch and filter a given title. It also opens the door for a wide range of your most requested  features to be developed, like community-based filters, closed caption and multilingual filtering, profile-based “allow/block” lists, and offline, “DVR-like” viewing/filtering. 

 

And this is how we found ourselves, VidAngelists, in a situation where we were offering a beta mobile app, a web app that only worked with Netflix, and some broken television apps that my 6-year-old daughter whined about whenever she discovered, every morning, that she could no longer watch Shrek on her “Rokuangel” (as I force her to call it).

 

We are committed to keeping you as informed as we can about our company’s direction. We also need your feedback to help guide that direction, which leads me to address a second question in my final few paragraphs: how can we at VidAngel take our fingers out of our ears and better listen to our customers?

 

Our television casting feature, a core feature of our new mobile apps, is something I’m very passionate about. Casting was what brought me to VidAngel, and after 6 and a half years, when we rolled out our new casting technology that can  talk to any family’s devices, I remember saying to myself, “This is incredible. Why would anyone ever want to install an app on their Roku or Apple TV again? You can do it all from your phone!” Yet now, with hindsight that’s 20/20, I realize I wasn’t really seeing the forest for the trees. Many of you don’t want to use the phone as your remote. Whether it’s because you’re like me and have younger kids who want to start their own shows, or you have teenagers who you can’t trust to set their filters properly, or you just want to relax on the couch, distraction free while your phone is in the other room, we hear your complaints. Thank you for your feedback over the past few months and telling us how important your specific VidAngel viewing experience is.

 

With that said, we’ve made a monumental push over the past few weeks and are now able to release two significant new(ish) products:

 

1)    An updated, still-a-work-in-progress-but-getting-there, version of the VidAngel Roku app that can work with your mobile device. This way you can, after a one-time sync between the two devices, browse, search, and watch on Roku the way you’ve always done in the past, with full access sans your mobile phone, you can find out more details at https://www.vidangel.com/roku and 

2)  A new chrome extension that will restore full access to enable your computer to connect to streaming services (no mobile syncing required!) and watch right in a browser.

 

Additionally, we are already hard at work to bring the same new features to the AppleTVs, FireTVs, and Android TVs out there.

 

Your patience is much appreciated, but even more so we appreciate your trust. We want to continue to make entertainment good for your home, and we can only do that once we’ve proven we deserve a place in  your home in the first place. 

 

Jarom McDonald

VP of Research and Innovation

VidAngel

Letter to Shareholders

May 5, 2020

 

Friends of VidAngel,

VidAngel exists to help you make entertainment good for your home. 

What is good for each of our homes is a personal choice. We’ve long known the motto “Be our guest.” At VidAngel, we believe “We’re your guest.” 

After all, it’s your home.

You choose how to watch. In 2013, we started developing software that was essentially a pre-programmed streaming remote. We have now gone through 6 successive attempts to build your skipping software. In each iteration, we hit a wall. We were sued over iteration number four, struggled through bankruptcy, and today Disney continues to oppose iteration number 6. We’re continuing to push through that for you, and in the meantime, we’re providing access to arguably the most exciting content of the COVID-19 era, produced by Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services. Watch however the BLEEP you want.

You choose what we make. In 2017, armed with the data around the skip choices families are making, we launched Dry Bar Comedy. Over 300 comedians have now performed, fine-tuning their sets to the audience and receiving  bonuses for better serving you. Additionally, with the help of 19,000 of you, we funded, produced, and distributed the award-winning dramatic series The Chosen

And you have responded. In April 2020, our business generated 5X the revenue of our skipping software pre-injunction. Dry Bar has over 2 billion views. The Chosen is offered globally, in dozens of languages, has tens of millions of views, and millions of dollars in revenue via its own app. It has been the #1 series on VidAngel for months. 

We hear you. 

Five. Times. Revenue.

 

So what’s next?

After emerging from bankruptcy (we hope during the June 18, 2020 confirmation hearing), we plan to raise up to $50 million to grow VidAngel. 

Our goal with these funds will be:

  1. Give our loyal investors, without whom we would not exist today, a chance to liquidate some of their shares (some people may need cash due to COVID-19 and won’t be able to wait for a potentially larger return). 
  2. Back many more creator projects, like The Chosen and Dry Bar Comedy, by building creator tools for:
    • – daily financial reporting and monthly payments (currently quarterly)
    • – better audience interaction (e.g. live streams, merchandise, uploads, notifications)
    • – creator cross-promotion (i.e. a simple way for The Chosen and Dry Bar to promote new creators’ projects with their massive audiences)
  3. Build better control over more content, allowing you, for example, to:
    • – find the very best content to watch or the best future content to back (rather than the primary focus being on skipping objectionable content)
    • – say exactly what kids are allowed to browse (specific list of approved titles with pre-set skips)
    • – watch with skips without having to wait for us to tag it (say hello to SkipBot and community made skips)

Thank you for trusting VidAngel as a guest in your home. We aim to build an entertainment company that centers around your kingdom, not ours. The best days are yet ahead.

 

Onward,

Neal Harmon

Co-founder and CEO

 

Click here for VidAngel’s SEC Reports

VUDU Family Play Mode

Last week, Walmart’s VUDU announced a new feature called “Family Play Mode” which automatically skips sex, violence, profanity, and drug use in 500 movies. This is the most significant development in parental and family content skipping since we launched VidAngel in 2013. 

Here is what we know so far:

– They offer Disney content

– They are supporting modern streaming devices like iOS, Android, XBOX One and a few smart TVs 

– They offer 500 PG and PG-13 titles

Some backlash:

– Filmmaker discussion boards online have exploded in shock and anger.

– Commenters across social media are predicting that Family Play will be shut down by pressure from the DGA.

– When Sony announced a similar initiative back in 2017, they were attacked by the Directors Guild of America and leading Hollywood content-makers. Eventually, due to significant pressure, took “Clean Version” down.

We congratulate VUDU and Walmart on being the first major player to catch the vision of skipping. 

How you can help Senator Mike Lee update the Family Movie Act

Senator Mike Lee is preparing to introduce an update to the Family Movie Act in the Senate. This important message from the CEO of VidAngel, Neal Harmon, and a letter from the President of the Parents Television Council, Tim Winter, explains how you can help.


Video Message from VidAngel:
(Can’t see the video? Click here.)


Letter from Parents Television Council:

As a parent, nothing is more important than protecting a child’s innocence.

And, as a veteran of the entertainment industry, the truth is that there are many in Hollywood who are actively engaged in creating content that strips that innocence away from our kids, damaging lives forever.

You know this already, that’s why you use and support VidAngel, because its incredible content filtering technology protects your family. The Parents Television Council wants to protect your right to filter out the graphic sex, violence and profanity that is so pervasive in today’s media, but I need your help.

Hollywood is fighting to remove your parental right to use content filtering technology for modern streaming devices.  They’ve convinced judges that you shouldn’t be able to use modern technologies to protect your family from material that you find harmful or offensive.

If we don’t act now, and if we don’t act together, we may lose that right forever. Please contact your senator to support your right to filter explicit content.

Legislation is being considered in Washington DC that will block the negative forces in Hollywood from taking away your right to use filtering technologies like VidAngel.  If that legislative remedy is to succeed, we need bipartisan support from the most influential legislators. That’s why your senator needs to hear from you today.

HOW YOU CAN PROTECT KIDS RIGHT NOW.  Please click on the link and send your personal plea to your Senator so that your rights to filter content are protected. It will only take a minute or two, but it will help you and your family for decades to come.

With urgent thanks,

Tim Winter

President

Parents Television Council

Quality over Quantity – VidAngel’s Take on Autoplay

In an effort to serve the needs of families over the needs of VidAngel, we have decided to give families the option to easily turn off the upcoming VidAngel “autoplay-the-next-episode” feature. Here’s why.

 

Netflix, Facebook, and YouTube go to great lengths to keep users on their websites for the longest time possible. They spend millions ensuring that every feature of their products is habit-forming (see Hooked: How to build Habit-Forming Products).

 

Thanks to Netflix’s autoplay, bedtime at my house is a battle. As the evening episode of “When Calls the Heart” ends, our girls fight to keep Mom or Dad away from the remote so that the next episode will begin. As parents, we usually find the autoplay feature to be a hindrance, not a help.

Netflix Autoplay: Next Episode Playing in 9 seconds

 

Has the Netflix autoplay feature had a net-positive impact on our world’s happiness and productivity? At VidAngel, we are hesitant to take a similar strategy.

 

Personally, I find media to be a good servant, but a bad master. I value media, not when it consumes my every minute, but when it helps me achieve my other life goals, such as:

 

  • – Love (seeing examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships)
  • – Learning (seeing examples of those who have been where I am, or where I want to go)
  • – Empathy (understanding those whose experiences are different from my own)
  • – Laughter (cultivating a light-hearted life)
  • – Or a Nap (resting easy without worrying that the little ones are getting into trouble)

 

Tristan Harris, founder of Time Well Spent,  also believes that media is a bad master. He argues that, rather than incentivizing binge watching and “show[ing] whatever keeps us scrolling”, the tech and media industry must instead begin “to put our best interests first.”

 

I want VidAngel to put the needs of families ahead of the needs of VidAngel. Meaning that customers who, like myself, wish to consume their media in moderation should not feel pressured to binge watch against their better judgment.

 

Although our team is currently working on an autoplay-next-episode feature for those who have asked for it, we have decided to use VidAngel to help achieve our media goals as families rather than simply copying Netflix’s.  Hence, our tech team will provide an easily available “disable autoplay” button. That’s something I’d like as a parent. We’ll also make it super easy to “enable autoplay” for those who are in the mood to binge. It’s up to you.

 

What do you think? Please share your thoughts or parental feature requests below in the comments. What would you love to have as a feature to your favorite family media app?

 

Even though the average American watches five hours of TV per day, we’re ok if VidAngel families get quality rather than quantity on their media experiences. Watch however the BLEEP you want.

Neal Harmon, Co-founder and Father of Eight 🙂

VidAngel Policy: Can I watch VidAngel without filters?

As VidAngel has grown and reached a broader audience, a few new customers have begun asking if they can stream on VidAngel without filters. 

nudity-filter

The short answer is, unfortunately, NO.

The long answer is, VidAngel employs filters in compliance with current copyright law, but we believe in allowing our customers to watch movies however they want. If you want filters, VidAngel is your place to do it. If you want to watch without filters, we recommend one of these unfiltered streaming services:

Google Play Movies

Amazon Instant Video

Vudu

 

(or iTunes, which is not really streaming)

Thanks for using VidAngel!

Neal Harmon, CEO

 

VidAngel vs ClearPlay

The most marked differences between VidAngel and ClearPlay as of this writing.

VidAngel ClearPlay
Price FREE for your laptop or computer (try it out here) ClearPlay charges $8/month for filters. Customers must pay for all content & refurbished DVD players (which can only be found on e-bay) or rent from their limited streaming library.
UI Intuitive ON/OFF switches that let you create your own cut of the film without any question of what you are going to take out and leave in. Out-dated user interface with arbitrary “least filtering, medium filtering, most filtering” you never know exactly what you are going to get.
Library 723 streaming titles ClearPlay annouced its own streaming service on Nov 27th 2013 (shortly after VidAngel)
6 months later, they offer only about 80 streaming titles.
Ongoing selection VidAngel Technology allows filtering of 100 percent of new releases ClearPlay streaming product can’t filter around 10 percent of new releases due to technological limitations.
TV VidAngel offers popular TV Shows (House of Cards, Sherlock, etc) ClearPlay has zero streaming TV Shows

 UPDATED July 22, 2014 (VidAngel now FREE)