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.
The pleasures of 2020 have been limited, a theme that will likely carry over to a muted holiday season not nearly as resplendent with the usual festive bounty. So many months into the pandemic, even the most ardent of film fans and television fanatics have likely long since burnt through their usual favorites and all the new “content” they had otherwise saved for a rainy day. What else is there to possibly watch? And what else is there to buy?
In short: Plenty! Over the past few months, we’ve navigated our way through the ever-changing waters of the streaming experience, and for all the zippy headlines about beloved auteurs slapping down fledgling services they loathe and the spectacular flameouts of multi-million-dollar enterprises with major star power, there are still many independent streaming services rife with excellent films and series to watch right now. Even better, they make inspired gifts for the hard-to-shop-for watcher in your life, no trip to the store or gift wrapping required.
Here are nine of our favorites, from general interest streamers to more specialized sites, all ready for purchase and gifting right now.
The Criterion Channel
The Criterion Channel has long been the gold standard of the indie streamers, and has only kept up its stellar work during these many pandemic months, continually rolling out fresh content with peerless supplemental materials. It should be the first stop for anyone looking to break free from the chains of its heavy-hitting contenders on the corporate side. The annual fee of $99.99 might sound hefty, but it’s a guaranteed winner for anyone looking to treat the cinephile in their life.
Another indie stalwart, MUBI launched a freshened up streaming arm earlier this year, rolling out its starry library in early May. Think of it as a cinephile dream warehouse, filled with tons of independent and classic movies, black-and-white favorites as far back as 1922’s “Nosferatu,” and more recent fare like “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda,” Luca Guadagnino’s lavish short film “The Staggering Girl,” starring Julianne Moore, plus “Bruce Lee and the Outlaw,” and much more.
The distributor also uses its streaming side to release some of its newest pick-ups, often rolling out exciting new festival hits for premium online consumption (coming up soon: Kirill Mikhanovsky’s festival favorite “Give Me Liberty”). You can gift three months of the service for $29.99 or a full year for $79.99.
IFC Films Unlimited
Launched just last year, IFC’s streaming brand hosts hits from all three of IFC’s distribution labels — IFC Films, Sundance Selects, and genre label IFC Midnight — and is available through both Apple and Amazon Prime. The deep library offers a curated range of IFC titles, including festival hits like “Boyhood,” “The Babadook,” and even the full run of Michael Winterbottom’s “The Trip” series.
Innovative event-based packages, like a recent female director-centric collection and watch parties, help show off many of the library’s highlights. Subscribing is easy, and clocks in at just $5.99 a month (treat someone, or just yourself).
Much like IFC, indie distributor Magnolia Pictures is continually adding to its own burgeoning streaming service, forging new partnerships with both physical theaters and other streaming outlets. The streamer is packed to the gills with some of Magnolia’s most beloved films (a peek at its current “popular picks” reveals a wealth of choices, from “Melancholia” to “To the Wonder” and “Compliance”). If you’re missing the film festival experience these days, Magnolia Selects will easily recreate it in the safety of your own home.
The streaming-VOD service collates hundreds of films from Magnolia’s library that aren’t on other SVOD platforms, making them available to audiences for $4.99 month, which grants users access to the full retinue of Magnolia’s many niche picks, including genre-focused Magnet and a wealth of documentary choices.
Horror hounds likely already know all about Shudder, which offers up horror films, thrillers, and suspense-filled features. But the site’s growing reserve of original content, including films picked up off the festival circuit and fresh features from rising stars, has turned it into a must-have for film fans of all stripes. It’s not just a place to check out beloved classics, but to find the next big thing (or, at least, the next original diversion).
The gore-happy service is available to stream on a number of devices and sites, including Apple, GooglePlay, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Xbox. New members can you can stream Shudder unlimited for just $5.99 per month, or save with a yearly membership for $56.99 (only $4.75 a month).
Launched back in 2017, BritBox, owned by British networks BBC Studios and ITV, offers the kind of comforting, made-for-snuggling, deeply Anglophile content that’s hard to find in such a wondrously curated form. IndieWire has already called BritBox the Hulu alternative for all things that come from the UK, and its impressive slate only continues to grow.
Case in point: Earlier this year, the service acquired the rights to several new Agatha Christie films, TV shows, and audio plays. How’s that for knowing (and serving your audience)? If someone you love has already consumed a decidedly American diet of entertainment, perhaps it’s time to take them across the pond for more offerings. For now, the service is offering a special holiday deal: Twelve months for the price of ten (just $69.99).
Created by former journalist DeShuna Spencer, kweliTV aims to celebrate the excellence of global Black culture and community through a robust selection of award-winning independent films, series, documentaries, children’s programming, and more. The service currently houses over 400 indie films (98 percent of which have been programmed at various film festivals) and television shows, with over 35,000 registered users, an impressive base that has, per the company, doubled since April 2020.
kweliTV is available on Amazon Fire, Roku, AppleTV, GooglePlay, iOS, Chromecast, and Cox. Subscriptions are available by both monthly ($5.99) and annual commitments ($49.99), and individual titles are available to rent for just $2.99 each.
Earlier this year, we looked more deeply at the burgeoning world of independent documentary-focused streamers, and found a bounty of solid contenders. Among them (many free and offering a la carte picks, too), there are a number of subscriptions worth an annual buy for the fact-obsessed in your life.
In April, international streaming service DAFilms launched in the Americas, complete with a 2,000-film catalogue of festival and documentary films. The platform is one of the main projects of DocAlliance, a creative partnership between seven of the major European documentary festivals, including CPH:DOX, Doclisboa, Millennium Docs Against Gravity FF, DOK Leipzig, FIDMarseille, IDFF, and Visions du Réel.
DAFilms makes selections from those festivals’ lineups accessible in American homes for a currently reduced rate of just $35.88 per year (single-screening rentals are also available for films). Sections include Spotlight On, Film of the Week, Featured Filmmaker, and Country in Focus, and recent title highlights include Agnes Varda’s “Mural Murals,” Petra Costa’s “Undertow Eyes,” and Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Parave’s “Leviathan.”
launched last year with an assortment of hard-to-find features, including documentaries from Chantal Akerman, Michael Apted, Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Patricio Guzman, Heddy Honigmann, Chris Marker, Ross McElwee, Bill Morrison, Raoul Peck, Jean Rouch, Wang Bing, and Travis Wilkerson., though not primarily focused on documentary and nonfiction,
The streaming service, created by a collective of independent distributors (Bullfrog Films, Distrib Films US, First Run Features, Grasshopper Film, Icarus Films, and KimStim), continues to provide a wealth of nonfiction features for its subscribers — a listing of newly added docs is packed with gems — and is well worth its monthly fee of $6.99 (or $69.99 for the year).
Keep streaming, and stay safe out there.