A Comment on VidAngel from Covenant Eyes CEO Ron DeHaas
I spent most of a week with VidAngel founder Neal Harmon and his young family. One thing was evident: Neal is driven by a devotion to the proposition that families are being damaged by sexualized and violent content of popular “entertainment.” It is that drive that I saw displayed in his love for his family, and which I see displayed in his value for excellence in the work he does–excellence which is evident in the VidAngel program.
Founder and CEO of Covenant Eyes
The following review of VidAngel was performed by members of the Covenant Eyes team.
Why VidAngel Exists
Parents of young kids and teens are often saddled with the constant question of whether or not a show or movie is appropriate for their child. “Mom, can I watch this?” is a persistent request from our digital-native children. Although some organizations provide nice reviews of shows and movies so that parents can make an informed decision, the choice is then one of a blanket “yes” or “no” based on the overall content.
For most parents, the thoughts often go like this:
- “I’ll allow a little swearing, but if they drop the F-bomb, I’m shutting it off.”
- “I don’t mind the words, but it’s the sex and sexualized scenes that I’m really concerned with.”
- “I don’t need my kid having nightmares, so if there’s blood and gore, we can’t watch it.”
So, we end up making concessions on some content in order to have any options at all.
Two Key Beliefs That Motivate VidAngel
VidAngel to the rescue! Parents now have choices. VidAngel was created for two reasons:
First, they believe in great content; before creating the VidAngel software, the team was known for their creative genius in videos of their own. Per their website, “As content creators, we love movies and TV shows that are compelling and well-crafted. Not only do such movies entertain, but they also change behaviors and minds of people–we believe movies help change lives.”
But, second, they believe in personal freedom. Although they agree that producers and directors can create whatever they want, in the private sphere, VidAngel believes each of us should have the personal freedom to watch content however we choose. In their words, “That’s why VidAngel does not claim to be a moral authority. We will never tell you what to watch or what filters to use when watching a movie or TV show. You have the choice to watch however the BLEEP you want. VidAngel is here to facilitate your personal choice.”
Brilliant. Each family has its own values and VidAngel gives parents the freedom to control the content their kids are exposed to.
How Does VidAngel Work?
The set-up was so easy. Plus, a new account receives one month free to explore the options.
By connecting to your personal Netflix, Amazon Video, Amazon Prime, and/or your HBO Amazon Channel account, VidAngel gives you the freedom to block categories of content from the shows you love. Content like:
- Language (blasphemy, profanity, sexual, discriminatory)
- Violence/Blood/Gore (non-graphic, graphic, disturbing images)
For each show or movie you want to watch, you simply click the “filters” icon and customize your viewing experience. The Covenant Eyes team tested a few shows using various filter settings. Our selections ranged from the relatively clean, like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (PG), to The Amazing Spider-Man (PG-13), to Saw and House of Cards (R and TV-MA respectively).
What Happens When VidAngel Filters Content
The filter setting process was self-explanatory, allowing us to easily toggle content settings off and on, which then showed us the impact on the time and content with each selection (see image below).
In this image above, you see the impact of removing violence from the graphic movie Saw. Over 14 minutes of content is removed. Some might say, “Geez, why watch the movie at all?” And, they might be right. But, isn’t that a valuable insight? This type of graphic made us realize that this movie, despite its cult-like popularity probably doesn’t align with the values of my home. Do I really want or need to watch a show where I’m filtering out over 14 minutes of a 102-minute show? Maybe this isn’t the right choice for my home.
VidAngel Helps You Maintain Your Values
The way I’d characterize the solution is that it takes shows that have a good storyline, but a few instances of filth, and makes them appropriate and watchable with a wider audience. This was true for E.T., with its infrequent inappropriate words, and Spider-Man, with its thematic violence and periodic poor language.
Another massive benefit of VidAngel is that as the content of shows evolves, fans are able to keep their values the same, even if the show’s values shift. A perfect example of content evolution is the wildly popular show Stranger Things. Now in season two, VidAngel offers these statistics related to the show’s content when comparing season one to season two:
- 43% more sexual content
- 43% more alcohol and drug use
- 40% more objectionable language
- 28% more violence and gore, and
- Five uses of the F-word in Season 2, versus zero in Season 1 (the F-word is in the background music)
This quote from Facebook summarizes the joy felt by Stranger Things fans who weren’t excited about the content in season two, “We started to watch it on Netflix right after it came out, but the language was too much, so we decided to wait. Little did we know VidAngel would have it ready so soon. Good job, VidAngel team!”
On the other hand, if you want to watch Saw or House of Cards and toggle off all forms of sex and violence, VidAngel can’t take a filthy or graphically violent storyline and make it understandable. That’s just not possible. Asking VidAngel to make Saw both pure and understandable would be like asking Mars to remove the sugar from Skittles and requiring them to make it sweet and delicious.
But, for families trying to promote purity in their home, it allows a much wider selection by taking previously borderline shows and making them excellent.
Related post: Apps and Internet Doorways–What Parents Need to Know
Is VidAngel Right for Your Family?
One member of the Covenant Eyes team said this, “While looking at the filters provided, I realized how much filth I had allowed into my home. Seeing what words and scenes I had allowed to become mainstream was eye-opening. Why wouldn’t I choose to remove swearing and scenes of violence and sexual acts? I certainly don’t want my daughter accidentally seeing these things and they do nothing good for me and my life. VidAngel helped me assess how I wanted media consumed in my home in ways I had become desensitized to and for that, I am grateful.”
Are you trying to create a culture of purity and accountability in your home? The combination of Covenant Eyes on your internet-ready devices and VidAngel covering the movies and shows you love creates a powerful suite of tools for parents in the digital age.
Want to learn more about VidAngel? Check out our podcast with VidAngel CEO, Bill Aho.
This sounds like a great service! I have one question though, do producers get feedback on the number of people watching their shows with VidAngel? Would be great if there was a way for them to get the message that there are people who like their shows, but don’t want the innappropriate content.
Hi, Jordan – great question, but I don’t know the answer! You might try submitting it through VidAngel’s comment form on their website (link here!).
Our family has been using VidAngel for two months and we LOVE it!!!! We got to a point where we almost unsubscribed from Netflix and Amazon Video because all of the shows are filthy, but now we can watch shows without gratuitous sex, gore, nudity, or profanity. We realized that most of the content we end up filtering out is just that: gratuitous. It has NOTHING to do with the actual storyline, and the filtering is so seamless that we end up being able to follow the storyline without a hitch.
Two things to keep in mind:
1) It does take a little time and experimentation to figure out what to filter out and what not to, but it is totally worth it.
2) When you select filtering options initially, it will tell you an estimate of how much time it is cutting out, but it is usually off by quite a bit. It might estimate that it will cut out 15 minutes, but it will really only cut out 4 minutes. The editing is seamless and they do a great job of cutting out as little as possible. So again, don’t be worried that you will miss the plot of the show.
Very encouraging. Covenant Eyes and VidAngel are holding the line!
Can I use the service on Netflix through my Roku box?
Hi, George – no, you cannot. Your best bet is to create parameters for Netflix that are controlled by an administrator (not you) if Netflix is a concern. We wrote about how to set up Netflix here.
Is this available in Australia? I’d like to look into it.