Disney and 21st Century Fox have proposed another massive media merger that may rise or fall on Disney’s anti-competitive lawsuit against a small Utah company that allows parents to filter mature content such as violence, strong language, or sexually inappropriate images and sounds from movies and TV shows.
VidAngel has become a hot topic amongst social conservative groups whose members want to be able to watch a movie or TV show at home without bringing mature elements into their homes, especially in light of Hollywood’s recent scandals over sexual harassment and parent’s subsequent concerns over how to protect their kids from messages encouraging sexual objectification. Since Disney and other movie producers continue to provide cleaned-up TV and airline versions of their products, there should be no problem with customers having the ability to self-police what shows in their homes.
In fact, Congress has already acted once to ensure that parents can decide whether to filter a movie or not in their home. In 2005, they passed the Family Movie Act which specifically allowed the filtering of movies for private home viewing. Unfortunately, now that technology has moved to a streaming world, the federal courts, at Disney’s urging, have failed to extend this law to include streaming. This despite alarms raised by groups such as the venerable Parents Television Council, which found in its research that the major streaming platforms are unsafe for kids and lack adequate parental controls.
When it comes to their current desire to demonstrate that their newly proposed corporation that would incorporate much of Fox’s content library would not be anti-competitive, what they ought to be afraid of is that their proven willingness to bully small companies in federal court, effectively usurping the will of Congress that filtering be allowed will become a giant thorn in the paw of the Disney giant.
Rather than opposing the filtering that one would think core Disney movie customers would appreciate, the corporate media giant instead is trying to push Hollywood values into the homes of middle America. In the past, those who objected simply refused to buy their content, but due to the Family Movie Act of 2005, those consumers had a choice to buy filtered movies.
Given the federal courts failure to create a suitable remedy in the case, Senator Orrin Hatch, the author of the Family Movie Act, needs to make one of his final successes of his career, the revision of the Act to unambiguously allow the filtering of streamed movies so even the far left Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals can figure it out.
In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Justice should look very closely at the proposed Disney merger, because if the media conglomerate is willing to use its power to subvert the law and squash VidAngel, it is reasonable to ask if they have too much power already, let alone letting them accumulate even more.
With their reputation sullied, Disney has the opportunity to show that they are a company that Walt would be proud of by dropping their opposition to filtering streamed content, and supporting tweaking the Family Movie Act to make it unambiguously clear that personal filtering of that content is legal activity.