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Streaming Wars: As Competition Grows, Indie Streamers Keep Up Blistering Race for Viewers

Indie Edition: Existing streaming platforms are moving quickly to up their game, complete with theatrical-at-home deals and clever programming.

"And Then We Danced"

“And Then We Danced”

Music Box Films

With streaming dominating the industry — and suddenly becoming the “new normal” in a changing world — IndieWire is taking a closer look at the news cycle, breaking down what really matters to provide a clear picture of what companies are winning the streaming wars, and how they’re pulling ahead.

By looking at trends and the latest developments, Streaming Wars Report: Indie Edition will offer a clear picture of what’s happening overall and day-to-day in streaming for the indie set. Check out the latest Streaming Wars Report for updates to the bigger players in the industry.

Buzzy Originals

Can Indie Streamers Keep Up as Studios Pivot to VOD?

This week, I watched both “Bloodshot” and “The Way Back” from the safety of my own home, as studios rapidly pivot to offering up even their newest film on premium VOD mere weeks (and sometimes even days) after they were released to a currently nonexistent theatrical space. But as Hollywood’s heaviest hitters are moving swiftly into home releases in a bid to a) save films that might not have gotten a fair shake at the box office and b) keep increasingly bored stay-at-homers from turning that dial elsewhere, indie streaming platforms are keeping up at a blistering pace.

Last week, Kino Lorber rolled out Kino Marquee, an ambitious plan to collapse the theatrical window on their own terms, while also supporting the indie and arthouse cinemas that typically book the shingle’s films (on Thursday, it announced that another 150 theaters had signed on). In just days, other platforms followed suit, and this week has seen the announcement of at least two new theatrical-at-home options from established indie outfits, while individual films are also attempting to get into a brand-new market.

First up, Music Box Films has rolled out its Music Box StreamLocal, which utilizes the same concept that drives Kino Marquee — it’s billed as “a new initiative for streaming current releases at home via a ticket purchase through arthouse theaters around the country — and also boasts livestream discussions between filmmakers and arthouse patrons. Ticket fees are split between Music Box Films (the films are hosted on its dedicated streaming platform, Music Box Direct) and the participating theaters, with more joining the plan each day.

Music Box StreamLocal will launch on Friday with “And Then We Danced,” a Swedish-Georgian gay drama that screened in the Directors’ Fortnight at last year’s Cannes Film Festival (and was nearly banned in one of its home countries). On April 2, patrons can join director Levan Akin on Instagram Live from Stockholm, Sweden for a Q&A.

Elsewhere, Film Movement in partnership with Art House Convergence is launching its own version of theatrical-at-home, rolling out a full online slate of both first-run releases and newly-restored classics. Like its Music Box and Kino Lorber brethren, films will be available on Film Movement’s own streaming platform, Film Movement Plus, but will be booked through local theaters in an effort to support them (like Music Box StreamLocal, ticket fees will be split down the middle).

“The Wild Goose Lake”

Available titles on Film Movement — Virtual Cinema include Jan Komasa’s Oscar nominee “Corpus Christi,” Diao Yinan’s “The Wild Goose Lake,” Luchino Visconti’s final film “L’Innocente,” and Sonia Braga’s 1976 comedy “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands.” More theaters and titles will be announced in the coming weeks.

Other indies are getting in on the same idea without the backing existing streaming platforms, like Gary Lundgren’s “Phoenix, Oregon,” which is running its own theatrical-at-home plan over at its website. All ticket purchases receive a one-time link to watch the movie at home, plus a free digital copy upon its official release this summer. Profits will be shared with the film’s opening weekend theaters, with more signing on for its second week.

New Numbers

Suddenly, Competition Has Never Been Stiffer

While established streaming platforms are digging deeper into the possibilities of theatrical-at-home plans, other outfits are hoping that a hungry audience will start expanding their horizons and check out smaller platforms they hadn’t previously considered (or perhaps even know about). The possibilities have never been wider, and the competition for streaming has never been stiffer.

Consider Acorn TV, which provides a wealth of options for fans of British and international television that happen to live stateside (like others of its ilk, the service is currently offering a free trial for new viewers). The platform includes a wealth of new scripted shows, like BBC One hit “Line of Duty” and perennial favorite “Midsomer Murders,” along with international hits like “Ackley Bridge,” “The Brokenwood Mysteries,” and “Balthazar.”

Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears

Essie Davis and Nathan Page in “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears”

AcornTV

The platform is even getting into the film game, and recently debut a much-anticipated feature-length followup to the popular mystery series “Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries”: the fan-backed “Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.” The platform also hosts a “Miss Fisher” spinoff, “Ms. Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries.”

Fans of The Criterion Channel itching for more auteur-driven offerings might soon look to OVID.tv for additional options, as the well-appointed outfit is just about to celebrate its one year anniversary and is doing it in impressive style. This month alone, the site will play home to work by Frantz Fanon, Bruno Ganz, Peter Greenaway, Salma Hayek, David Hockney, Derek Jarman, Ewan McGregor, Pascale Ogier, Eric Rohmer, and Tilda Swinton. This year alone, OVID.tv will host over 600 arthouse films.

Big Deals

Clever Programming from Deep Libraries Still Reigns

Even in a rapidly changing world, don’t discount the old standbys: deep libraries, well-curated programming, and platforms that know exactly what their viewers want. While theatrical-at-home strategies will help bolster films that have already been released (or were gearing up for release and had to adopt a new plan, and fast), with the festival world in limbo for the foreseeable future, even the most deep-pocketed streaming sites won’t be able to pick up many new releases to entice audiences.

Instead, they’ll have to lean into what they’ve already got. The Criterion Channel remains the platform to beat, not only boasting a brand name synonymous with high quality films, but the library to back it up. Even before streaming became the primary mode of at-home entertainment (you know, just a few days ago), the Criterion Channel was intent on providing fresh supplementary material for each of its picks, work on par with anything you’d find in a natty Criterion physical package.

The platform’s easy to navigate website also offers up obvious double and triple features for viewers, including an entire section that shows off its multitude of films from big-name directors. (On deck right now: Maren Ade, Eric Rohmer, and Paul Schrader.)

Elsewhere, IFC Films Unlimited is touting its selection of female-centric films during Women’s History Month, a smart and timely way to show off its own wealth of titles for every taste. When you’ve got so many options, it’s easy to cobble together substantial programs, and IFC is upping its game when it comes to showing off those possibilities to its subscribers. More of this, please.

Oscilloscope Laboratories is putting its own twist on that idea, rolling out its so-called Circle of Quarantine, which offers viewers 10 Oscilloscope titles for digital download — program your own mini festival right now, folks — for the cool price of $49.99. Even better, O-Scope is donating $10 from every purchase to the Cinema Worker Solidarity Fund, to help those most immediately affected in the business.

Top 5 Power Rankings (March 27, 2020)

1.The Criterion Channel
2. IFC Films Unlimited
3. Film Movement Plus / Music Box StreamLocal
4. OVID.tv
5. Acorn TV

Keep streaming, and stay safe out there.

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