Movie lovers now have their own guardian angel to protect their eyes and ears from potentially offensive content – VidAngel, a service that edits streamed movies and TV shows.
VidAngel was started by four Idaho brothers: Neal, Daniel, Jeffrey and Jordan Harmon, who share the belief that individuals and families have the right to censor the media they consume.
“From a theoretical standpoint, you have the right to watch what you want to watch and how you want to watch it in your own home,” said Jeffrey Harmon, a BYU graduate and co-founder of VidAngel.
Jeffrey and his brother Neal created the online viral marketing videos for the products Poo-Pourri and Orabrush. Because of that, they spent a lot of time on YouTube, said Jeffrey Harmon.
Because of spending so much time on YouTube, the two Harmon brothers were exposed to the frequent vulgarity present in online videos and began to wonder if there was a way to filter that content.
Because of the large amounts of content uploaded to YouTube every minute, they decided to start with something more manageable: movie and TV show rentals.
After months of working, they developed a plug-in that would allow users to tag inappropriate content in top YouTube movie and TV show rentals. Now, anyone who has the VidAngel plug-in can tag potentially offensive content in a movie or TV show episode.
With the VidAngel plug-in, when someone rents an online movie or TV show, he or she can unselect offensive material that will be edited out of the rented movie or TV show. As a result, there is an almost limitless variety of ways a movie or TV show can be seen, based on the individual preferences of each viewer.
“You can cut it (the movie or TV show) any way of a thousand different ways, and you’re going to be different from your neighbor down the street,” Jeffrey Harmon said. “It’s the responsibility of the viewer to censor their own content in their own home.”
The tags are based on input from VidAngel users, which currently total approximately 10,000. The input is volunteer based, so no one is paid to go through and tag inappropriate content, said Jeffrey Harmon.
Ricky Butler, a BYU graduate and user of VidAngel, said he likes it because of its simplicity.
“It’s unique because it allows me to decide what level of violence I want to watch; I love using it for ‘Game of Thrones,'” Butler said. “Basically, every parent should use it.”
VidAngel falls under the protection of the Family Entertainment and Copyright Act of 2005, which allows people to remove limited amounts of audio or video content from a movie or TV show for their own personal home viewing, Jeffrey Harmon said.
“We don’t expect any opposition from the studios,” he said. “We are building a market for Hollywood.”
Editing movies based on content is a complex issue, as opinions differ on how much editing takes away from the intended message of a film or TV show.
“As a filmmaker, and as a Mormon filmmaker specifically, I can totally identify with both sides of the issue,” said Nick Dixon, a recent BYU graduate. “I’ve made content myself that I wouldn’t want children to see necessarily, but at the same time I feel like it really detracts from the art if it gets edited out.”
VidAngel is a free service that works with a computer or laptop. Users pay for rented videos on YouTube. Users can visit www.vidangel.com to register with VidAngel and download the web plug-in.