HBO Max Structured Negotiations
In a landmark agreement, advocates for people who are blind have obtained WarnerMedia’s pledge to increase the accessibility of HBO Max—the much-anticipated online streaming platform that was launched in May 2020. Among other commitments, the agreement provides that WarnerMedia will provide audio description on at least 1,500 hours of new and existing programming on HBO Max by the end of March 2021, increasing to 3,000 hours by the end of March 2022, and doubling again to at least 6,000 hours in total by the end of March 2023.
The agreement was reached between WarnerMedia Direct, LLC; American Council of the Blind (ACB); the Massachusetts-based Bay State Council of the Blind (BSCB); and two individuals. These blind individuals and advocacy organizations were represented by Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national non-profit legal center, and Disability Law Center, Inc., the Protection & Advocacy agency for Massachusetts.
HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs and movies, and fan favorites from WarnerMedia’s rich library including Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more.
Under the agreement, WarnerMedia will ensure that audio description—a separate audio track that, when activated, provides a verbal description of visual elements on screen—is created on a going forward basis for all HBO original programming as well as all Max Originals that have entered post-production since the platform launched in May 2020. For more on audio description, visit ACB’s Audio Description Project.
In addition, accessibility of the HBO Max website, mobile applications, and applications for Internet-connected TVs will be improved for individuals who are blind and use screen-reading software to navigate and interact with digital content. Screen-reading software enables blind individuals to access and interact with online services by rendering the text displayed visually on the screen as large print, synthetic speech, or onto a digital braille display. For screen magnification and screen-reading software to work, website and app developers must program for compatibility. HBO Max will release accessibility improvements incrementally as they are ready for distribution and, by the end of September 2021, the HBO Max website, mobile applications, and available internet-connected TV applications will substantially comply with standard international web accessibility guidelines.