And FilmStruck, a just-announced subscription video-on-demand service from TCM, is what happens to Old Movie Weirdos while we’re waiting for the option to subscribe directly to TCM without cable or satellite.
To be clear: FilmStruck is not a standalone streaming version of Turner Classic Movies. But what it is (or will be when it launches this fall) is potentially something even better – a unique programming alternative to the linear TV channel with the same expert curation that’s made TCM beloved by fans for more than two decades. And while the service will not focus primarily on the Studio Era (as TCM does on-air), FilmStruck is expected to include a wealth of content that will appeal to those who prefer films of an older vintage.
For a monthly subscription price expected to be in “the single digits,” Turner’s first-ever streaming service available direct to consumers will offer hundreds of “contemporary and classic art house, indie, foreign, and cult films,” from the libraries of the Criterion Collection, Janus Films, Flicker Alley, Icarus Films, Kino, Milestone and Zeitgeist, “along with movies from Hollywood’s major movie studios including Warner Bros.”
Thanks to TCM’s new partnership with Criterion, FilmStruck will offer exclusive streaming access to Criterion’s extensive library, which includes hundreds of essential classics, most newly restored (and some not previously available to TCM for broadcast). The basic service is expected to include a curated selection of Criterion titles each month, with a library of more than 1,100 Criterion films available 24/7/365 on a dedicated “channel” for an additional (still to be determined) fee. To facilitate this, Criterion will end its current licensing agreement with Hulu (which began five years ago) in November and will likely discontinue offering select titles to Fandor, Mubi or other competing services. (For the record, Hulu is $7.99 per-month, Mubi is $5.99 and Fandor is as much as $10. And yes, I subscribe to all three.)
FilmStruck’s Criterion channel is also expected to include more than 1,000 films from Janus – “many unavailable on disc or anywhere else” – as well as Criterion’s unique special features, previously available only on DVD or Blu-ray releases. Peter Becker, president of the Criterion Collection, outlines the “new dimension to the Criterion experience” that FilmStruck will provide here. (The “steady stream of original content” is very compelling, as are the “archival discoveries” that are promised in the press release.)
With the Flicker Alley and Kino libraries comes access to silent films, foreign and independent classics, and cult obscurities, many in new restorations. Icarus Films brings a collection of documentaries from independent producers. Zeitgeist Films specializes in foreign and indie features and documentaries. And Milestone Films focuses on “classic cinema masterpieces, groundbreaking documentaries and American independent features.” And it sounds like TCM will supplement material from these boutique labels with films licensed from major studios, as well.
This eclectic mix sounds similar to what TCM already does on-air, especially with thematic stunts like The Story of Film, a 15-week, 119-film programming series that aired in 2013.
All content on FilmStruck will be un-cut and commercial free, presented in HD (when available) and in its original aspect ratio (not every SVOD service can say that). And because TCM programmers don’t need to worry about basic cable content restrictions when programming a streaming service, films with more mature content will be viewable anytime (unlike on TV, where they air only in latenight slots.) The service will be available to watch on TV via streaming players (models to be announced), mobile devices, computers and wherever else people watch movies nowadays. (I’m predicting “smart” toaster ovens to be the next big thing.)
There’s also the opportunity for some of TCM’s on-air content to crossover to the service, as well as the potential for TCM to expand relationships with rightsholders, since it will be “buying a different piece of the library that we never had before,” as Coleman Breland, president of TCM and Turner Content Distribution, told the Wall Street Journal. And that increased leverage could benefit TCM’s on-air programming when it comes to prying open doors of studio vaults.
Best of all, by placing the TCM name on its first streaming offering, Turner is demonstrating enormous faith and confidence in the power of the brand. This bodes well for a network that survived a corporate restructuring in 2014 as Turner’s only remaining commercial-free cable network. Also: FilmStruck doesn’t preclude the possibility of a standalone streaming version of TCM in the future and, in the meantime, it extends the brand to potential new viewers, which is vital to long-term viability.
To my eyes, FilmStruck will be like TCM’s hipper younger brother. Some of us will ignore it and some will embrace its quirkiness, but, either way, it’s great news for those who love the cable channel and want it to stay true to its mission. A successful streaming offering (and the revenue it will bring) makes that more likely.
Will FilmStruck be right for you? Ask your doctor (assuming he’s a movie buff). Or wait until it launches this fall, and take advantage of the “free trial period.” But if you’re like me, and you have a shelf filled with Criterion, Kino, and Flicker Alley DVDs and Blu-rays next to a TV that’s usually tuned to TCM, FilmStruck seems like a match made in movie heaven.