FilmStruck, a Streaming Service for “Film Nerds”
To the growing stable of online, streaming film services, add one more – one that the Wall Street Journal has dubbed “Netflix for film nerds.”
FilmStruck, set for a November 2016 start in the United States, will emphasize art and cult films from independent film companies. It is Turner Broadcasting’s first direct-to-consumer service, and is a collaboration of Turner Classic Movies and film-revival company Criterion Collection.
FilmStruck will offer a large, regularly refreshed library of contemporary and classic art-house, indie, foreign, and cult films, without commercials.
Initially, at least, it will be available only in the United States, and will offer three subscription levels: for $6.99 a month, subscribers will have access to some Criterion titles — about 200 — as well as hundreds more selections from a variety of domestic and foreign independent film companies like Flicker Alley, Icarus, Kino, Milestone, and Zeitgeist, as well as Hollywood companies including major ones like Warner Brothers.
The basic service will offer about 500 films at a time in around 70 curated, themed packages such as Neo-Noir, master filmmakers such as Akira Kurosawa and Mike Leigh, The Beauty of Italy, Early Kubrick, and Panic Room.
For $10.99 a month, or $99 a year, subscribers will be able to watch at that basic level, and also call up the Criterion Channel, which provides access to a far larger selection of the company’s holdings. Since 2011, Criterion’s films have been available on the Hulu Plus streaming service, but that arrangement will end with the launch of FilmStruck.
Criterion will make its entire collection of more than 1,200 films available on its revised Criterion Channel, although not necessarily at all times, and will add curation. For example, to show films such as Silence of the Lambs that it has not previously had clearance to include in its streaming service, it has licensed windows of time – a month, say — where it can show such films as part of, for example, Friday-night double features.
FilmStruck will run in web browsers and on Android and iOS hand-held devices, and will soon be available on Amazon’s Fire TV, smart TVs, and Blu-ray players. It will be available only while users are connected to the Internet — which is to say, users will not be able to download films for offline viewing.
The service will come with a variety of additional features, including trailers, hosted introductions, commentary tracks, and short documentaries about films’ production, directorial styles, and the like. It will not include much of the standard Turner fare that the corporation will continue to air on Turner Classic Movies, such as western, gangster, and screwball-comedy films. TCM has always emphasized Hollywood output, as that was the majority of what Ted Turner bought, in the early 1980s. TCM chief Charlie Tabesh told Los Angeles Daily News that FilmStruck is “kind of meant to be the inverse of” that approach. “It’s 90-95 percent arthouse/independent films. There’ll be Hollywood films when appropriate, like early Kubrick or Robert Altman films. When you look at the balance, though, you’re much more likely to see independent and foreign language films on FilmStruck.”
Turner officials say that while the new service is aimed at diehard movie enthusiasts, it exemplifies the company’s determination to “innovate beyond the traditional television ecosystem,” as a press statement put it: to use multiple platforms and new technological capabilities, as well as new business models, to pitch content to customers on whichever platforms become available.
In March 2016 Turner announced that it would enter the direct-to-consumer business with two, unspecified products by the end of the year.
In designing their new service, Turner and Criterion seem to be emulating art-house services like Fandor, Mubi, and Tribeca Shortlist by offering subscribers a more carefully considered package than such services as Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and Warner Archive, and certainly than the increasingly pallid Netflix.