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Fandor Is Moving Toward the Mainstream, and Bracing for the Backlash — Exclusive

Indie streaming service Fandor has closed Keyframe, its five-year-old digital magazine, in a strategy shift that the CEO admits, "is not for everyone."

Fandor logo

Fandor, the indie and international cinema streaming platform, is turning a new page — and “for better or worse, the new strategy is not for everyone,” admitted Fandor CEO Larry Aidem.

Earlier this week, the company closed Keyframe, its 5-year-old digital magazine, and two of its longtime staffers left the company: editorial director Jonathan Kiefer and David Hudson, who ran Keyframe Daily and whom, in his recent New York Times profile of Fandor, Glenn Kenny praised as a “great asset.”

“When I started at Fandor in 2012, and for several years afterwards, we were a good match, what with our shared sense of cinephilia and appreciation for timeliness,” Hudson said. “As Fandor evolves, its editorial focus is changing, and at this point, it’s best for me and the company to amicably part ways. I truly wish them well and hope that they achieve the growth they’re after.”

Aidem joined the company in September 2015, about nine months after Ted Hope left to join Amazon Studios as its head of production. A former Sundance Channel executive and more recently chief of YouTube content provider IconicTV, Aidem said Fandor is looking to broaden its appeal “beyond cineastes to Movie Fanatics,” he explained in an email.

Fandor keyframe home page

“This evolution is not unlike what Sundance Channel did in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s as we sought to expand the network’s appeal beyond the roughly 5% of moviegoers who are independent film fanatics to the 35-40% who self-identify as ‘movie lovers,’” said Aidem. “To be clear, Fandor is not abandoning the indie-lover core; in fact, expanding the business will enable us to continue to present many indie gems.”

Aidem said Fandor will shift its emphasis “from the written word to video, which is essential to Fandor’s future success.”

Video has always been part of Fandor’s charm, with Keyframe founding editor and chief video essayist Kevin Lee creating hundreds of original video essays for Fandor. However, in mid-2016 the company’s emphasis on video content began to tilt away from Fandor’s library of arthouse titles and more toward garnering “eyeballs.”

“The original idea was to produce editorial content to draw people to the site and watch movies on Fandor, building a community and culture around film,” said Lee, who left Fandor earlier this year. “Then they wanted to figure out how to make things more viral — but the films that are on Fandor are typically not viral conducive.”

Still, Lee’s Oscar-season “Video Evidence” essay series was watched by millions, and a popular video he produced last year about the sexism in the original “Ghostbusters” was also successful. (“It got more views than I’d ever gotten before,” he said, “I was ecstatic.”)

But Lee said the videos became less essayistic and thoughtful and skewed more to the broad, formulaic, and short. “When you set out to make clickbait,” said Lee, “you’re instantly setting yourself back, and audiences catch onto that quickly.”

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