Last month’s news that FilmStruck, the streaming service from Turner Classic Movies, would cease operations by the end of November hit its diehard cinephile users like a truck — including some major names in the entertainment industry. “It was like a family member died,” Bill Hader said at the IndieWire Honors. A petition imploring Warner Media to save FilmStruck has ballooned to more than 45,000 signatures, including support from Barbra Streisand and Guillermo del Toro. “Don’t mourn FilmStruck,” del Toro tweeted. “DO something!”
Nevertheless, it’s hard to see tell how much FilmStruck’s corporate parent — which is plotting bigger plans for a subscriber service in the wake of being acquired by AT&T — actually cares about one passionate niche of serious movie viewers. And in the meantime, the news has left one major open question: What happens to the Criterion Collection? FilmStruck was the exclusive streaming partner for Criterion’s titles when the platform first launched two years ago; prior to that time, it was available on Hulu. Assuming the library doesn’t return there, Criterion has a lot of options. Here are a few that hold serious promise.
Amazon’s combination of a subscription service and à la carte options could be particularly appealing to Criterion. A rotating selection of titles from its library could be available for free on Amazon Prime, though if you want editions of the films with all the special features available on Criterion Blu-Rays and DVDs you could then purchase a digital copy of the film and its extras separately. When Criterion was on Hulu, almost the entire library was available, but special features were not — revolving the selection that can be watched for free with Prime (after paying for a monthly or yearly pass, of course) would enable one-off purchases to be a significant source of revenue. Or Amazon could charge users to access a specific Criterion channel, much the way that the service allows for viewing content from Showtime, HBO, Shudder, Mubi, Fandor, and other platforms for an additional fee. Not to mention: Amazon Prime has had a decent selection of classic Hollywood titles made before 1960, even if those titles are usually films in the public domain, such as the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes franchise. And weirdly, Amazon Prime remains the single best place to stream early- and mid-career films by Pier Paolo Pasolini. All of which means Criterion would not feel out of place in the slightest. A representative for Amazon was not able to comment to IndieWire by the time of publication. —CB
Perhaps the most logical place of all for Criterion to go with its unparalleled roster of classic and contemporary films is…nowhere. After Criterion’s streaming partnership with Hulu failed to capitalize on the full depth and importance of its lineup, it seemed as though FilmStruck was a perfectly viable solution: It wasn’t owned by Criterion, but the collection was inextricable from the brand. Now that FilmStruck is no more, maybe it’s time to let the old ways die — maybe it’s time for Criterion to finally take things in-house. Criterion has elected not to comment on the post-FilmStruck future, and it’s hard to know if the company has the infrastructure for its own OTT service, but it could potentially be the best-case scenario. Just imagine scrolling down the spine numbers on Criterion’s website, and being able to watch any of those movies with the click of a button? Dare to dream. —DE
San Francisco–based Fandor has been building its pedigree for nearly a decade now, building a library of some 4,000 films from around the world for its cinephile-friendly subscription-based users in the United States and Canada, including some Criterion titles. On one level, Fandor has struggled with the same challenges that faced FilmStruck, in that it has yet to build a subscriber base beyond the limited niche of serious movie lovers automatically drawn to its collection; conversely, it has managed to survive on that scale for much longer. The platform pounced on the news about FilmStruck’s imminent demise by immediately offer FilmStruck subscribers a 50% discount on Fandor membership. “The Criterion Collection is an amazing collection of iconic films and has incredible, enduring power,” said Gail Gendler, head of programming at Fandor. “I think the collection has the potential to add value to any place it’s available.”
She welcomed the possibility of absorbing Criterion’s greatest hits. “The collection would be a compliment to what’s on Fandor,” Gendler said. “Can you imagine how great it would be to add films like ‘L’aveentura,’ ‘Diabolique,’ ‘The 400 Blows,’ ‘Eraserhead,’ and ‘Zatoichi’s Revenge’ to Fandor’s offering? We’d love it, but I can’t speak for the team at Criterion about their next steps for the collection.” —EK
Kanopy is unique among the significant streaming platforms for movie lovers at the moment for one simple reason: It’s free, as long as you have a library card. Though Kanopy has existed for 10 years as one of the largest educational distributors in the country, it has gained momentum recently with the launch of a successful app and the inclusion of 50 titles from Criterion’s library. What’s a few thousand more? It may be a natural solution for Criterion to expand its offerings on the platform as long as it maintains some exclusive windows around its home video releases to keep that side of its market viable. Kanopy can be a limiting experience for some users: New York Public Library card holders can only stream 10 titles per month, Brooklyn Public Library card holders can only stream 10, and you only have three days to watch a title before the rental expires. But this itself could incentive more aggressive explorations of Criterion’s expansive offerings.”We’re always looking at opportunities to expand our library with quality, thoughtful entertainment,” said Kanopy Founder and CEO Olivia Humphrey, noting that Kanopy’s Criterion offerings continue to perform well on the service since they were first added four years ago. “We know it’s a popular brand.” —EK
The platform formerly known as The Auteurs, MUBI has radiated Criterion vibes since it launched in 2007 with Criterion as a partner. MUBI has assembled a library of 150,000 films from around the world and a complex international user base that also consumes its highbrow film journal and engages in heated debates in cinephile-friendly forums. The platform has never developed a massive following in the United States, but has found a larger base across Europe, and continues to evolve. As with FilmStruck, it also has diehard fans who are prominent movie buffs (one of them, Paul Thomas Anderson, released his documentary “Junun” on the site). MUBI continues to evolve, most recently entering the theatrical distribution arena as the U.K. distributor of “Suspiria.” Though its $8.99 monthly membership isn’t cheap, voracious consumers of cinema get their money’s worth, and an increase of Criterion’s offerings would make that even more true.
Efe Çakarel, the founder and CEO of MUBI, welcomed the opportunity. “That’s the dream,” he said. “We’ve long been friends with Criterion—we were one of their first digital partners, in fact—and their films, as well as their impeccable approach to properly presenting them, would be right at home on MUBI.” As for FilmStruck’s fate, he added: “Its startling closure says less about this specific subscription model than it does about how little its corporate parent values a large subsection of the moviegoing public: those who love all the wonderful kinds of films that can and do exist outside the multiplex.” —EK
Netflix is so massive — by one count accounting for 15% of all internet bandwidth — that the audience it could win by hosting the Criterion Collection could be seen by its leaders as a marginal gain at best. Certainly Ted Sarandos & Co. have not prioritized a streaming library of classic films in many years, to the point where it’s now a recurring joke that, other than “The Godfather” movies and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” there are almost no films made before 1980 on offer. But in the early days of Netflix’s streaming service, around 2007-2008, many foreign and arthouse films were available: it’s how this writer first saw Jean-Luc Godard’s “Tout Va Bien” and Francois Truffaut’s “Fahrenheit 451.” And now that Netflix has achieved such world-dominating scale, it appears it craves industry honors and recognition: hiring awards consultant Lisa Taback and bringing her leading awards consulting firm LT-LA in-house this July has yielded instant results. Yes, Netflix has shown its commitment to auteur filmmaking by picking up Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” in the first place, but it has gone all-in on investing in an Oscar campaign for “Roma” as competitive as any being fielded for a film this season. All of this suggests respect is now as important to Netflix as reach, and what surer way to brush up their cinephile bona fides than by housing the Criterion Collection? A representative for Netflix was not able to comment by the time of publication. —CB
Among the would-be suitors for Criterion, streaming platform Seed&Spark is the David among the Amazon and Netflix Goliaths. CEO Emily Best calls that a feature, not a bug. “We don’t have corporate overlords that will shut us down,” she said. “We have the OTT technology and the expertise.” Best launched Seed&Spark in 2012 as film crowdfunding platform; it’s since expanded to include an SVOD platform with a library of exclusive content as well as production and live events. She believes that while Criterion’s passionate following is enough to create profitability, it will never be on a scale that suits the consolidation-minded number crunchers. “Trying to beat Netflix at Netflix’s game is a mistake,” said Best. “You have to think differently about audiences, about pricing — all of it.” —DH
As the classiest of the popular video-sharing services (and a favorite among creators and critics alike), Vimeo could be a natural partner for a quality-forward, cinephile-driven brand like the Criterion Collection. The company would have to pivot in a new direction to be as accommodating towards classic films as they are towards new video content, but they certainly sound willing to try. “Vimeo OTT has set out to give channels like Filmstruck and the Criterion Collection the ability to not only exist but thrive, and we certainly think they have a home on our platform,” said. Kathleen Barrett, SVP of Enterprise and Creator Success. “This is exactly why we’re building tools for channels of any size to distribute without limits.” —DE
YouTube Premium — which is home to YouTube’s original content — is a potentially viable home for the Criterion Collection, if not a particularly attractive one. YouTube’s “anything goes,” user-curated brand doesn’t seem like a natural home for a roster of movies that’s defined by its exclusivity, and to which the addition of each new film feels like an anointment. That being said, YouTube Premium’s monthly subscription fee is on par with that of FilmStruck’s, and there’s no doubt that the company has the bandwidth to give Criterion’s lineup the muscle that it needs. The risk here is similar to the one that confronted Criterion when Hulu was its exclusive streaming home: These incredible films could easily be lost in a boundless sea of content. YouTube Premium did not respond to a request for comment. —DE