If you build it, will they come? That’s the question that newly launched Filmstruck must face. The Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies’ launch of the new streaming service on Tuesday represents one of the most ambitious undertakings yet in the world of subscription video-on-demand entertainment. (Check out our list of five great films available on the platform now.)
Starting today, FilmStruck is offering hundreds of hard-to-find, critically acclaimed movies and bonus features for $6.99 per month, playing titles from Criterion, Janus Films and Zeitgeist as well as movies from Hollywood studios like Warner Bros. (The platform was originally scheduled to go live on October 19 before issues with the sign-up process required roughly a two-week delay.)
For $10.99 per month, subscribers will also have access to the entire Criterion library through The Criterion Channel, an add-on service offering the company’s more than 1,000 movies, complete with special features like commentary tracks and filmmaker profiles. Much like a movie theater, FilmStruck will “program” titles every week, creating a curated selection of quality movies while also allowing customers to have the run of its deep library. In addition to the usual special features offered by Criterion, there is also new original programming that FilmStruck and Criterion have produced exclusively for the platform, including supplementary filmmaker interviews and micro-lectures from film experts.
But will consumers who already subscribe to Netflix be willing to pay for another streaming service that’s devoted exclusively to film? Criterion President Peter Becker told IndieWire that even though the target demographic for FilmStruck is a niche audience almost by definition, there’s still a significant addressable market of consumers who want a well-curated movie platform.
“It’s not like we’re looking at a universe of 100 million potential subscribers, but the potential audience of fans of our kinds of films who are willing to explore our streaming service is easily 10 times as big as the audience I think we’re reaching on a regular basis now,” Becker said.
For Criterion, FilmStruck isn’t just about replacing revenue from customers who no longer buy DVDs, as Criterion is known for its loyal base of film lovers who still spend upwards of $40 for special-edition DVDs and Blu-ray discs. It’s also about providing an additional service for those DVD collectors and for cinephiles who prefer streaming.
“For this to succeed, it has to be an additive experience,” Becker said. “There are people who are going to use it to say they don’t need to buy discs anymore and there are people who will use it as a way of shopping around and getting a sense of what they might want to actually add to their DVD collection.”
Still, Becker noted that Criterion is taking a bit of a leap of faith, and the company has never relied on market research to inform its strategy, focusing instead on the quality of its products. “Our whole approach from the beginning has been to go with our gut and make the very best thing we can for our audience,” Becker said, adding that it doesn’t take too many calculations to show that FilmStruck should be a compelling service for existing Criterion fans. “If you buy three Criterion discs a year, you’ve already paid for a year of FilmStruck, and a lot of our customers buy more than three discs a year.”
In addition to the $6.99 and $10.99 monthly options, customers can also elect to pay $99 for a year’s subscription to FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel. Becker said he expects the lowest-cost option to be the most popular among subscribers.
Perhaps the biggest bet that FilmStruck and Criterion are making is that consumers will value a service with many hundreds of titles and that offers thoughtful film curation beyond just categories like “new releases,” “family friendly” and “popular.” If they’re right, they do stand to benefit from having a truly differentiated offering. “Thematic programming is not really the stock and trade of any major streaming service,” Becker said. “We’re certainly hopeful.”