Watch Out, Netflix, Smaller Streaming Platforms Are Reporting Growth in Fraught Times — Streaming Wars

Indie Edition: Smaller streamers aren't going to put the same million-and-more numbers of heavy hitters, but they are all reporting progress.
The Trip to Greece
"The Trip to Greece"
IFC 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 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 question is no longer if indie streaming outfits are up to the task of competing with the big dogs — Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, whatever Quibi thinks it is — but how much more they are able to keep growing and evolving when home entertainment reigns supreme. While niche outfits like The Criterion Channel, IFC Films Unlimited, and Magnolia Selects are never going to rack up the tens of millions of paid subscribers of their heavy-hitter brethren, they are finding success on their own terms. The last three months have proven just that, as the biggest names in the indie streaming world have enjoyed growing subscribers and reach as more people have sought out fresh entertainment in the safety of their homes.

First, though, some necessary context. In April, Netflix reported (via The New York Times) that it had added more than 15.7 million new subscribers in the first three months of the year, just as the pandemic began to spread and more countries initiated lockdowns to help fight the spread of COVID-19. The heavy-hitter now boasts nearly 183 million subscribers worldwide. Arguably Netflix’s biggest contender, Disney’s newly launched Disney+ service, has already enjoyed tremendous growth of its own, also reporting in April (via Variety) that it had attracted 50 million paid subscribers in just its first five months of operation.

Smaller outfits are not going to pass along eye-popping numbers like Netflix or Disney+, because hitting million-and-more benchmarks is not what they were designed to do. For that reason, not every streaming service IndieWire reached out to for a numbers-based check-in was eager to provide precise subscriber numbers, and some didn’t want to share at all: The Criterion Channel, for instance, has never shared subscriber numbers (anecdotally speaking, my own increased use of the service seems to be mirrored by many others reporting their viewing habits on social media).

However, many of these entities were more than happy to offer up other proof of big-time growth in a relatively short period of time.

Buzzy Originals

Both IFC Films Unlimited and Magnolia Selects, two of the more established brands in the indie streaming world backed by traditional distributors and the full heft of their individual catalogues, reported strong growth over the past few months. A representative for IFC Films Unlimited shared that the company has seen a 50 percent increase in subscribers since the beginning of the year through the start of the U.S. lockdown period. IFC Films Unlimited has already seen a 75 percent increase in the amount of content people are consuming on the platform versus previous months.

Just a year old, IFC Films Unlimited 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, which IFC brass said have proven to be consistent performers in recent weeks, bolstered by the release of “The Trip to Greece.”

Cleverly conceived events, like a recent female director-centric collection and watch parties, help show off many of the library’s highlights. In the coming weeks, the service expects to roll out a number of films oriented around its July release of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “The Truth” by programming a number of films from the master filmmaker and stars Ethan Hawke and Juliette Binoche, all the better to drive attention to films both new and old.


Magnolia Selects has seen its own numbers boosted by forging new partnerships with both physical theaters and other streaming outlets. Last month, Magnolia Selects partnered with Spotlight Cinema Networks to launch CineLife, billed as a channel for independent films and documentaries, on the free streaming service Redbox Free Live TV.

“Like many other film subscription services, Magnolia Selects has seen double digit growth over the past few months,” Jeff Cuban, THE COO Mark Cuban Companies Entertainment, told IndieWire. “This growth was enhanced by a unique partnership program between Magnolia, Spotlight Networks, and the independent theaters circuits forced to close their doors during this difficult time.” While Magnolia brass declined to answer if the company had met Eamonn Bowles’ prediction of meeting 100,000 subscribers by the end of 2019, the company said it was happy with the platform’s performance to date.

Meanwhile, the deeply curated MUBI reports that subscribers have doubled since the beginning of the year and overall films watched by subscribers has tripled year over year. (One of the more international platforms among these, MUBI has only recently seen significant growth in the U.S.) Horror-centric Shudder shared it has seen “enormous growth in new members and usage per member” since lockdowns began, and the AMC Networks-owned service and distributor is “well ahead” of their previous projections for total membership.

Big Deals

Kino Lorber, one of the earliest adopters of the “virtual cinema” push, designed to bring newer movies into consumers’ homes and share ticket profits with closed local theaters, has also enjoyed great success in recent months. And it’s only growing, with Kino Lorber’s Kino Marquee platform continuing to add more theaters to its collective.

The boutique label is currently offering a raft of festival and restored gems, including recent runs of “Bacurau” and “Beanpole,” along with special events like a re-release of Nancy Kelly’s underseen standout “Thousand Pieces of Gold.”

“Thousand Pieces of Gold”IndieCollect

Wendy Lidell, Kino Lorber SVP of Theatrical Distribution & Acquisitions, told IndieWire, “As we endeavor to navigate the rocky waters stirred by the pandemic, our digital businesses have experienced impressive growth. Our virtual cinema platform Kino Marquee is now in over 350 theaters, and we expect to reach $600k in total ticket sales in the next week, returning $300k to shuttered movie theaters. At the same time, traffic to our TVOD site, Kino Now has increased ten-fold.”

Lidell added that the company has continued to observe “additional needs amidst the crisis” and has enjoyed other quick pivots into the evolving streaming world. She pointed to a recent collaboration with the French Institute/Alliance Francaise (FIAF), in which a selection of Kino Lorber’s best French films were offered to FIAF members, as being emblematic of the company’s ability to “build virtual cinema opportunities for a wide array of organizations.”

Next up for Kino Lorber’s streaming and virtual arms are similar virtual cinema schemes for the music venue The Knitting Factory and the publication The New Republic. Lidell added that each new “offering [will be] tailored specifically to the needs of the particular organization. Everyone is scrambling to stay afloat in challenging times, and we are offering our films and expertise to as many as we can.”

New Kids on the Block

Even newer streaming platforms are enjoying major growth. The documentary-focused DAfilms, recently launched in the Americas, hasn’t yet drilled down on the numbers driving its new territory, but is enjoying massive growth throughout its platform.

A representative for the company said that, because viewers can either stream or download their films through subscription or individual purchases, subscriber numbers aren’t always the best way to determine its growth. Instead, they pointed to a massive uptick in registered users across all territories, nothing that those numbers have more than quadrupled since March, compared to the previous three months.

DAfilms also experienced a steep rise in the total number of films being watched — five times more films were viewed on the platform in March, April, May, and the beginning of June than in earlier equivalent periods. The platform isn’t going to be running dry on new material anytime soon: It already acquired 400 new films this year, surpassing their original plans for the whole of 2020. Needless to say, anyone complaining about a lack of viewing options isn’t looking hard enough.

Keep streaming, and stay safe out there.

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