FilmStruck Streaming Service Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles


But even with the backing of two heavyweights, the Turner cable channel and the home entertainment company Criterion, both beloved by film buffs, FilmStruck is entering a niche-streaming field that’s already very crowded. Movie sites like Fandor, Mubi, Tribeca Shortlist and SundanceNow already cover much of the same non-Hollywood ground as FilmStruck. And myriad other sites — focusing on Asian soap operas, animation, Bollywood films, horror, documentaries — are going after the same discretionary dollars.

FilmStruck has one big advantage — the connection to Criterion, by far the most prestigious name in DVD and Blu-ray distribution, and its 1,500-film catalog of art-house classics. (Criterion films, available on Hulu for the last five years, will be streamed exclusively on FilmStruck, beginning later this month.) The site’s two-tiered pricing reflects the importance of that connection: A FilmStruck subscription is $6.99 a month, but full access to the Criterion Channel within FilmStruck costs $10.99. (An annual subscription to both is $99.)

For $6.99, you get some access to Criterion content: About 200 of its films will be part of the general FilmStruck roster of about 500 titles at any given time, according to Charlie Tabesh, senior vice president for programming at FilmStruck and Turner Classic.

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A scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1955 film “Killer Kiss.”

Credit
United Artists Corp, via Photofest

In the site’s initial incarnation, the Criterion offerings are heavily front-loaded. The most prominent display is a set of thematic clusters — political documentaries, movies starring Marcello Mastroianni, films that had been banned in the United States — and about 80 percent of the selections in those groupings are from Criterion.

The edge in classic content is hard to ignore: A section labeled “The Masters: Akira Kurosawa” includes 26 of that Japanese auteur’s 31 feature films. But the site’s architects say that the real battle will be fought not over the films themselves, but over supplementary material, and there again, Criterion — famous for the copious extras it provides with its lavish DVD packages — provides an advantage.

“I think the movies are a solid piece of it,” said Jonathan Turrell, chief executive of the Criterion Collection. “But I think the way they are presented is what we’re spending a lot of time with.” He said that, beginning with the Coen brothers’ “Blood Simple,” the site would present “entire editions” of films, with all of the extras — commentaries, interviews, documentaries — that were part of the original Criterion DVD package.

Mr. Turrell invoked a nickname applied to the Criterion Collection, “film school in a box,” to describe what could be done on FilmStruck. Larry Aidem, president of Fandor, a prominent competitor in the movie-streaming field, made a similar observation in defining the difference between the sites.

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The FilmStruck steaming site.

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Turner

“It appears Turner and Criterion are targeting and planning to super-serve the cinephile,” Mr. Aidem said, adding, “To super-serve the indie-film fanatic is forgoing a ton of people out there.”

If enough cinephiles are willing to spend $99 a year (which, even when combined with Netflix or Hulu, is significantly less than a cable subscription), then it won’t matter how many viewers FilmStruck forgoes. Not all of its movies are hard to find or all that interesting — “Madonna: Truth or Dare” or a group of 28 Charlie Chaplin films don’t set the heart racing — but its elegant interface and the Criterion catalog give it a big head start in the battle to be the second buy.

Five Streaming Sites for Film Lovers

Here are five subscription streaming sites that compete with FilmStruck. The first four offer similar mixes of independent, foreign, cult and documentary films, with Tribeca Shortlist putting more emphasis on mainstream hits. The fifth, Warner Archive Instant, focuses on Hollywood classics. Many of the sites offer free trials and discounts, and all are available on some combination of services like Roku, Apple TV and Chromecast, smart TVs and mobile apps.

Fandor

$10 a month, $90 a year

Recently featured: A Weekend Escape theme that included Kelly Reichardt’s “Old Joy” and Roger Michell’s “Le Week-End”; new additions including Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Cure” and the early Todd Haynes film “Poison.”

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Daniela Rocca and Marcello Mastroianni in “Divorce Italian Style.”

Credit
Janus Films

Mubi

$5.99 a month

The gimmick is that only 30 films are available at a time, for 30 days each, with one film added a day.

Currently available: Kirby Dick’s documentary “The Invisible War,” Lucio Fulci’s giallo adaptation of “The Black Cat” and lots of shorts from the New York Film Festival’s Projections section.

SundanceNow

$6.99 a month, $59.99 a year

Best known for nonfiction.

Recently featured: documentaries including “Brooklyn Castle,” “Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present” and “Birders: The Central Park Effect”; fictional films including “Orlando,” “In the Company of Men” and the “Red Riding” television movies.

Tribeca Shortlist

$4.99 a month with Amazon Prime

Recently featured: “No Country for Old Men,” “Platoon”; five films selected by the actor B. D. Wong, who chose “Midnight Cowboy” and “Ran,” among others; a Top Movies Not on Netflix or Hulu section that highlighted “Bad Lieutenant” and “Requiem for a Dream.”

Warner Archive Instant

$9.99 a month, $94.99 a year

The place for old-Hollywood fare.

Recently featured: a John Wayne spotlight (“Operation Pacific” and “Blood Alley” were among the eight films); a last chance to watch “The Prince and the Showgirl”; four seasons of “Medical Center.”

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