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Streaming Wars: Indie Platforms Start Leaning on Older Programming, from ‘Roar’ to Agnes Varda

Indie Edition: Theater-at-home schemes are the latest big twist in an evolving landscape, but smart streamers are turning to deep libraries for beefier programming.


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 offers a snapshot 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

Virtual Cinemas Are Packed With New Films, but Older Libraries Run Deeper

While the biggest story in the streaming world has undoubtedly been the rapid pivot to “virtual cinemas” and “theatrical at home” experiences in recent weeks, excitement over new possibilities shouldn’t be limited to new films. Plenty of streamers are catching on, particularly the ones not geared toward modified theatrical releases. Yes, checking out a “new” film at home — from “Trolls World Tour” to “Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always,” there truly is something for everyone — is a welcome delight, now is also the time to dig deep back into cinematic history for other potentially underappreciated options.

Of course, consistent standbys like The Criterion Channel and new (to the States) doc-heavy platform DAfilms offer deep libraries filled with older offerings (and both are still absolutely aces at it). Now, other established film entities are venturing into the streaming terrain. That includes the American Cinematheque, which just this week presented the rare Agnès Varda short “The Little Story of Gwen From French Brittany” on its YouTube page. With the Cinematheque’s brick and mortar Los Angeles locations currently closed, programming like the short help remind cinephiles of the wealth of options an organization like it can still readily provide.

AFI’s newly launched Movie Club is taking a different approach. Billed as a “daily virtual gathering to leverage our collective love of film on behalf of optimism in this time of global uncertainty,” the series isn’t streaming new content itself — just linking to where you can watch a curated list of films, and kudos to AFI for picking films that are readily available on a variety of platforms — but it’s complimenting those choices with exclusive assets and some huge guests to share them. Film fans are encouraged to chat about the films on social media (armed with a hashtag, of course), and AFI appears to be banking on the interest of the kind of movie fans who happily take to Twitter to talk about TCM and its ilk with ease.

This week alone, the brand new club has encouraged people to watch “When Harry Met Sally,” “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” “E.T. the Extraterrestrial,” and “The Devil Wears Prada.” While virtual cinemas with first-run films are shiny and new right now, as the shutdown continues, movie lovers will have to turn to older cinema to entertain them. While these choices aren’t exactly big discoveries, AFI’s approach helps bring fresh context to them. One idea the team might want to consider: building its own streaming platform for the club, instead of directing movie fans to other services to watch hand-picked films.

Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada”

Elsewhere, the team over at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema — which has already dipped into virtual cinema experiences with both new and older releases — has cooked up its own canny piece of programming: hosting virtual screenings of the wild cult classic “Roar.” Billed as the original “Tiger King,” the Noel Marshall curiosity has long been touted as “the most dangerous movie ever made,” and while no animals were harmed during the making of the film, people most definitely were. Hundreds of cast and crew members abandoned the project and 70 were injured, including the on-camera mauling of a 14-year-old Melanie Griffith.

Ten percent of ticket grosses for the virtual screenings will be donated to The Will Rogers Motion Picture Pioneers Foundation’s Pioneers Assistance Fund, which is dedicated to helping people who work in the motion picture industry. Currently, the PAF is providing financial assistance to theater employees furloughed by the COVID-19 crisis. Hell, you can only watch the Netflix series so many times, so why not catch up on a classic predecessor?

Rest assured, movie fans looking for new films to consume have plenty of options. Next up: a virtual screening program for Sally Potter’s “The Roads Not Taken,” starring Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Laura Linney, and Salma Hayek. Bleecker Street premiered the film at Berlin in February and it was released in New York and Los Angeles on March 13, just as most theaters were shutting down.

Now, the distributor is teaming up with Cinepolis Luxury Cinemas, CMX Cinemas, Bow Tie Cinemas, Laemmle Theatres and Studio Movie Grill and a number of independent movie theaters to screen the film (virtually!) starting on April 10. The indie distributor now joins a growing number of smaller distributors turning to VOD and other virtual schemes to launch their newest offerings, including Kino Lorber, Music Box Films, and Film Movement. There’s room for everyone!

New Numbers

Will We Ever See Subscriber Numbers?

Last week, we pondered the possibility of getting box office reports that include the new virtual screening tallies, and this week, we’ve got another big ask: Will we ever see new subscriber numbers? With big money behemoth Disney+ already touting its eye-popping 50 million subscriber mark, we’re guessing that the answer is probably no, at least when it comes to the indies. Still, if one platform did hit some massive milestone (The Criterion Channel, maybe?), a little transparency could provide a marketing bump in an increasingly crowded field.

Big Deals

Indie Streaming Platforms Continue to Emerge

Yes, there are still new platforms and programs hitting the circuit every day, but that doesn’t mean originality is waning. First Look Media’s new streaming service Topic is live, and “curated for a curious and engaged audience seeking smart, provocative and meaningful entertainment.” The new platform has lined up a diverse slate that includes scripted comedies and dramas, talk shows, documentaries, features, and much more, with new content arriving each week.

Tommaso Ragno (Marcello)

“The Miracle”

© Montesi Antonello

Right now, the fledgling service is playing home to the original series “What’s Your Ailment?!” hosted by comedian Maria Bamford; the acclaimed Italian drama “The Miracle”; and the action-packed German crime series “Pagan Peak.” Even better, interested audiences can sign up for a free 30-day trial, with a special discounted rate available should they subscribe after that.

Elsewhere, the popular MoMA series The Future of Film Is Female has rolled out its own brand new online channel, packed with both shorts and features from various FOFIF filmmakers. The platform will release a new short film each Tuesday through Thursday, with special theatrical releases on select Fridays for the next six weeks. The program will feature online premieres, known favorites from festivals, exclusive features for free, and some additional surprises along the way. Check out the upcoming program right here.

Top 5 Power Rankings (April 10, 2020)

1. The Criterion Channel
2. DAfilms
3. The Future of Film Is Female
4. Alamo At-Home
5. Topic

Keep streaming, and stay safe out there.

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