Sunday, April 14, 2019

Streaming for Cinephiles 101 Part II: The Criterion Channel

A follow-up to the previous post on online cinema alternatives to the dominant commercial streaming platforms, this second part focuses on this week's launch of The Criterion Channel, and their first month of programming. Which includes, among a vast body of other content; "The Criterion Collection and Janus Films’ ever-growing library of more than 1,000 feature films, 350 shorts, and 3,500 supplementary features, including trailers, introductions, behind-the-scenes documentaries, interviews, video essays, commentary tracks, and rare archival footage. It will also feature a constantly refreshed selection of films from a wide array of studio and independent licensors including Sony Pictures, Warner Bros, Paramount Pictures, Metro Goldwyn Mayer, Lionsgate, IFC Films, Kino Lorber, Cohen Media, Milestone Film and Video, Oscilloscope, Cinema Guild, Strand Releasing, Shout Factory, Film Movement, and Grasshopper Films. Additional licensors will be added in the coming months." Launched in response to last year's announcement that , "WarnerMedia Shutting Down FilmStruck Streaming Service", which in the process, "niche markets" that institutions like Time Warner once looked to supply, were discarded in favor of an eye exclusively to mass market profit margins. The FilmStruck "Streaming Service that Places a Big Bet on Cinephiles" endeavor between The Criterion Collection and Turner Classic Movies being the most recent casualty of narrow-minded market concerns like those detailed in Vanity Fair's, "FilmStruck, the Cinephile’s Answer to Netflix, Is Shutting Down". This is one of the factors involved in how Amazon and Netflix will continue to consume the streaming market and come to dominate our options for content... when media conglomerates like Fox, Disney, AT&T and Warner Brothers merge... alternatives for such "niche markets" as AT&T describes them, disappear... and everyone loses.

Striking out in an independent endeavor, it was announced that "Following FilmStruck's Closure, Criterion Collection to Launch its Own Streaming Service". Their new streaming platform arrives this week, with GQ being effectively ahead of the game, "The Criterion Channel Is Here for All Your Cinephile Needs" compiling a viewers' guide to, "Everything Coming to The Criterion Channel as it Launches This Month". We are now seeing resources of Criterion Channel's kind coming to fill an essential role, almost in response to the sparsity found elsewhere. In a span of the last decade it has become increasingly clear that "For Cinephiles, Netflix Is Less and Less an Option". And don't think to go to Hulu or Amazon as an alternative, despite their claims. The dearth of classic, arthouse, international festival highlights and award-winning and critically lauded works being available to view on these dominant streaming resources is sorely apparent. The diminishing of both quantity and diversity on the Netflix in particular has been accelerated by the phasing out their once voluminous physical media catalog. For a microcosm, look to the fact that less than 1/15th of "Spike Lee's list of 86 Essential Films" are available to view on Netflix. The per-capita is even more poor when one examines any of the selections made in the global poll of 900 critics, programmers and academics for the British Film Institute's, "The 50 Greatest Films of All Time". This is a small segment of the components that have contributed to, "Why Netflix Lets Movie Lovers Down, and What to Do About It". As a product of this combined effect of market dominance, while simultaneously offering a lack of content on Amazon, Hulu and Netflix, resources like Fandor, Mubi, and the short-lived FilmStruck became the online destinations of choice for discerning film lovers. Facilitating particularly valuable programming and distribution, these independent streaming platforms have stepped into the international festival arena. The fruits of their curation and criticism offered throughout the year in their respective digital magazines, Notebook and (the now shuttered) Keyframe. To date, "Mubi: A Streaming Service with a Ticking Clock" has come out on top. Unlike the "Streaming Rabbit Hole Worth Falling Down" represented by the services of Fandor and (the then) FilmStruck, each offering a vast catalog of thousands of titles, Mubi instead watches as an online cinema of sorts, with a new featured film every day. At its inception, The Criterion Channel looks to be offering Mubi the healthiest and most desirable kind of competition; complimentary, rich, far-reaching, and expertly curated.