Written by Keaton Ferkol
Friday October 26th was not a good day for film lovers, as that was the day that WarnerMedia announced the closure of the beloved streaming service FilmStruck. It is was a sudden shutter, as FilmStruck had seen the ideal response in their niche market over the just under two years it existed.
It was launched in early November 2016, as a collaboration between Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection. As was said in a profile with Esquire at its beginning, it made available 500 films, including 200 from Criterion. The more expensive Criterion Channel was also available, where for a few extra dollars a month members had unlimited access to over 1,000 films. Prior to the creation of FilmStruck, much of the Criterion Collection was available within Hulu Plus.
During this short time, it had grown quite the reputation among film fans. As Esquire said, it was finally a gateway where people could finally discover many types of cinema: rare artifacts, classics, foreign films, arthouse, independent, and films from marginalised communities. These films tended to be unavailable to most potential film fans, especially since films from The Criterion Collection tended to cost around $50 on DVD/Blu-Ray. It was an immediate success within film circles, which is clear since there has been a rise in popularity among rediscovering classic films, shown in the success of storytelling podcast You Must Remember This, which focuses on Hollywood films of the 20th century.
FilmStruck grew over time, gaining access to more archives through the Warner Brothers’ classic library, even merging with Warner Archive Instant. According to a recent Variety article, FilmStruck had reached a point where they had a total of 1,800 films, over a thousand of which were from the Criterion Collection. It cost $10.99 a month including the Criterion films, $6.99 without it. FilmStruck even had enough interest that earlier this year it expanded to the United Kingdom, France, and Spain.
That said, there were hints prior to this announcement. As Todd Spangler pointed in the aforementioned Variety article, WarnerMedia has recently shut down two subsidiaries, the VOD Korean Drama service DramaFever and the digital content studio Super Deluxe. The cause of these shutdowns is incredibly clear: AT&T buying Time Warner Cable and gaining ownership of WarnerMedia. AT&T’s entire plan has been to abandon niche services, even if successful, in order to try to find greater success and profits, in order to look for services made for the broadest audience.
This has been heavily criticized by the film community. As Ann Hornaday alluded to in her recent Washington Post article, FilmStruck was perhaps the purest archive of the history of cinema, and because of that it was a vital resource. If you look through the FilmStruck website and see all that was available there, it is incredibly depressing how many films from this service will likely go right back into obscurity and be incredibly hard to find as soon as this service shuts down. There has been a great amount of disappointment among film fans over the fall of FilmStruck. People in all facets of the entertainment industry, such as Brad Bird, Edgar Wright, Elijah Wood, Bill Hader, Barry Jenkins, and Guillermo del Toro, have all spoken about what an unfortunate turn of events this is. There is currently a petition on Change.org with over 16 thousand signatures hoping to save FilmStruck to show how dedicated this “niche” group of film fans are and how necessary this service is.
This raises the question: what should film fans do now? Something I believe is very important is to keep the physical media that you already own. It may feel silly to take up space with the DVD of some movie that is readily available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu, or any other streaming service, but those are temporary. Having physical media means you will always have access to the art. Another resource is the streaming service Kanopy, where thousands of works are available through a library card (CSU makes this streaming service available to all its students). The drawback to Kanopy is that some libraries aren’t signed to access with the service. Public libraries in general are great places to discover films—I credit them with making me the film lover I am today. My personal opinion is that classic films, such as those in the Criterion Collection, should be archived and screened at museums. Film is an artform that has reflected humanity for over a century, and deserves the same preservation and public access that paintings receive.
It is hard to predict what will happen at the moment, as the announcement is still so recent. It will take a few months to fully understand the effects of FilmStruck’s loss will be. One thing that is certain is that members of other niche streaming services should remain on edge, and realize that the films they have access to at the moment is impermanent. People need to enjoy what they have now, as corporations will easily drop anything that dedicated fan bases love as long as it satisfies the bottom line.