VidAngel Is Back, But It Still Might Not Last

VidAngel 4
By restreaming content from Amazon and Netflix, VidAngel's new service will attract many. But it remains in a legal grey area.

In a welcome announcement for many, on June 13 embattled content filtering service VidAngel announced a new subscription service to filter streamed content from major providers Netflix, Amazon, and HBO, with content from Apple, Google, Hulu, Vudu, and Showtime coming soon. You can watch the—frankly meandering—announcement event below. (Sorry, but over an hour for this? We’re not announcing a new iPhone.)

So for $7.99 per month, and with existing subscriptions to the services listed above, users can access everything in one VidAngel interface and filter content just as you did with movie rentals before VidAngel was sued by a handful of Hollywood studios. It actually works pretty well overall, with a slick interface that combines all of your subscriptions into one UI.

VidAngel 1

However, perhaps to server issues in the aftermath of the announcement, Netflix videos cooperated pretty well, but I couldn’t get Amazon Prime to work. Each video just presented a generic title card with nothing else.

VidAngel 2

All of this is well and good, but there remains a problem. Per Variety, while Amazon and Netflix have been involved in discussions with VidAngel, they never gave their formal blessing to push forward and essentially hack their code. Netflix’s terms of service, for example, state that customers agree not to alter code or redistribute Netflix content without consent:

Except as explicitly authorized in these Terms of Use, you agree not to archive, download (other than through caching necessary for personal use), reproduce, distribute, modify, display, perform, publish, license, create derivative works from, offer for sale, or use content and information contained on or obtained from or through the Netflix service without express written permission from Netflix and its licensors. You also agree not to: circumvent, remove, alter, deactivate, degrade or thwart any of the content protections in the Netflix service; use any robot, spider, scraper or other automated means to access the Netflix service; decompile, reverse engineer or disassemble any software or other products or processes accessible through the Netflix service; insert any code or product or manipulate the content of the Netflix service in any way; or, use any data mining, data gathering or extraction method.

Every service has terms of use like this, and that’s the slippery slope. Netflix’s failure to give consent at this juncture is no different than Disney having failed to do so previously. Moreover, outside of its own original content, Netflix and Amazon are distributors for other studios’ content, with which they have entered into rights agreements. VidAngel has no such license for streamers’ original content or to redistribute other studios’ content, and is merely accessing code, exploiting it, and repackaging it.

VidAngel executives are correct that they are not offering a $7.99/month portal into all of these services and essentially pirating streamed content. They are not cannibalizing existing subscriptions. If you don’t already pay for Netflix and Prime, then the new VidAngel is worthless to you. Essentially, you’re paying an $8 monthly premium to watch House of Cards in a filtered format. So from a pure business perspective, VidAngel thinks they will stimulate growth in number of subscribers for the services they are housing. And that’s fair. It seems there is no way for streaming services to lose money through this proposition.

Also worth noting is the new version of VidAngel does not offer anything from streaming from the studios currently litigating against VidAngel. A quick search for Disney films—on any house imprint—currently offered on Netflix, like Finding Dory (Pixar), Captain America: Civil War (Marvel), or The Sixth Sense (Hollywood Pictures) yields nothing. So when you think about it, the Provo business is treading lightly where it’s already in hot water, but happily holding content from studios that have yet to raise concern.

To be clear, that means no content from anything Disney, Warner Bros. or 20th Century Fox, essentially leaving Sony, Universal, and Paramount as the big studio content providers. That’s a bigger restriction umbrella than a user might realize. Want to watch Friends without sexual references? Too bad. It’s owned by Warner Bros. Want to watch Modern Family or New Girl on Hulu? Tough. They are owned by Fox. The masterpiece known as Hally Berry’s Catwoman? You guessed it: owned by DC Films which is owned by Warner. Oddly, even some Universal properties, like Parks and Recreation aren’t showing up. The point is, while there’s tons of content on VidAngel, there’s a surfeit of content that’s not.

Since this is the digital age, Netflix, Amazon, and eventually others would have little difficulty essentially shutting off the pipe if they grow upset. A few tweaks to code and it’s 404 City for VidAngel. The upside might mean no protracted legal battles and instead protracted hackathons.

At the risk of editorializing, I like this service. I’m a believer in the right to filter content, as it’s not a permanent adjustment the alters an artist’s vision. Nevertheless, I have a hard time seeing how VidAngel is going to get away with this in the longer term when it still fails to obtain licensing agreements with studios. If this goes south again, we’ll be left with VidAngel’s attempt to be a one-stop-shop for clean comedy, which has had mixed results.


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