Requiem For FilmStruck, A Streaming Service That Was Built For Film Lovers

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Screen shot from FilmStruck. This was associated with media announcements when the service launched.

AT&T-owned WarnerMedia’s announcement that FilmStruck will shut down at the end of November left many feeling incredulous. How can it be that this gratifying streaming service will no longer exist?

Subscribers desperately hope the suits, who work at a mega-corporation which controls so much of our culture, will relent and allow the service to continue. A petition to save FilmStruck on Change.org has over 8,800 signatures (with several even donating to give the campaign a boost).

But it is abundantly clear that FilmStruck is a casualty of the AT&T-Time Warner merger. The death of FilmStruck is a result of rampant media consolidation, which has accelerated exponentially with the vast expansion of the Internet.

With the merger, AT&T owns the content of Warner Bros., HBO, DC Comics, Cartoon Network, half of CW, and Turner Classic Movies. It plans to launch a streaming service in late 2019 that will compete against Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney, and others. (Incidentally, the corporation currently has a 10 percent stake in Hulu.)

AT&T’s streaming service will include content from all WarnerMedia properties. It will amplify the television and movie franchises of WarnerMedia and build up AT&T’s brand. In that sense, the new service will be the antithesis of FilmStruck.

Those managing the service will depend on algorithms to determine what to program. Every uploaded piece of content will be present for the purpose of increasing the number of subscribers, and if certain selections do not perform well or they divide subscribers, they are likely to be removed until executives can find a more satisfying way to commodify the content.

Fortunately, Criterion Collection, which was a key component of FilmStruck, is not owned by AT&T (or Time Warner, Inc.). Criterion can develop a new partnership or service to make its library widely available for streaming without alienating film aficionados and continue the kind of curation that made FilmStruck engaging.

Now, let’s push corporate greed aside and pay tribute to FilmStruck.

When FilmStruck launched, Jennifer Dorian, general manager of TCM and FilmStruck described the service as a “departure from the timeless Hollywood classics” offered at TCM and a “genuinely distinct offering for the streaming marketplace, focusing on a thoughtfully curated experience around hard-to-find, critically acclaimed, independent films from the most celebrated libraries in the world.”

“We think dropping people down in a world of choices in this time of media saturation is not necessarily the best experience; we think people might actually like just being invited to watch something,” Criterion President Peter Becker declared. “So on Tuesday nights, we’re going to show a short and a feature, often a contemporary/classic matchup. On Wednesdays, we will feature a complete Criterion edition, with all of its supplements, as a theme in itself.”

For nearly two years, the service challenged media saturation. It was a kind of anti-Netflix. It did not encourage subscribers to binge-watch. It did not overwhelm subscribers by inundating them with content that subscribers would feel they had to quickly consume so they could participate in some fleeting cultural moment. It offered a refuge for subscribers from our fast-paced world and slowed everything down so we could truly digest and enjoy a film.

The collections of films often piqued our interests by exposing us to nooks and crannies of cinema we did not know existed. They delved into a country’s films. They prominently featured women directors, the work of underrepresented voices in film (black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, African, etc), as well as producers or screenwriters who deserve as much recognition as celebrated actors and directors because they left an indelible mark on films, too.

“TCM Select” offered a chance to view a critically-acclaimed classic or re-introduce yourself to what made that film so influential.

Through the Criterion Channel, independent filmmakers clamoring to find distribution for their work were given an incredible opportunity to screen their work alongside classics and impactful contemporary films.

It promoted a culture of risk-taking in art and championed films, which broke new ground by exploring arenas aesthetically and sociopolitically that others had previously avoided.

These are by no means the best films that FilmStruck offered, but I’ll never forget viewing their collection of “80s Indies,” which included Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild,” and the delightful and eccentric film from Paul Bartel, “Eating Raoul.”

As one of the many who revels in the renaissance of film in the 1970s, particularly political thrillers of the era, seeing “Capricorn One” with Elliott Gould was fabulous. The premise of the government faking a Mars landing, as well as the main character’s commitment to unraveling a conspiracy which no one believes, is emblematic of that time period. Its cynicism also resonates in the era of President Donald Trump.

Jules Dassin’s “Thieves’ Highway” starring Richard Conte, Barbara Lawrence, and Lee Cobb is a captivating working class story from 1949 that depicts the criminal underworld that affected the food shipping service in San Francisco.

Finally, there are the classic horror films produced by Val Lewton. “Cat People” is popular and a fine piece of entertainment, but “I Walked With A Zombie” is even better. The story revolves around a sugar plantation owner on Saint Sebastian, which is populated by affluent whites and descendants of African slaves. Themes of colonialism and xenophobia combine to give more depth to a basic zombie tale.

So many film lovers made FilmStruck a part of a routine. Every Friday I looked forward to the next trove of treasures that would be made available. I woke up on Sundays ready to watch a film noir or perhaps a B-movie classic I had never seen.

AT&T executives may claim it was “lack of subscribers” that led to the service’s demise, but the reality is the service was not built to extract enough money from consumers. It could never co-exist with other services the corporation may offer. There could be no service simply for the celebration of cinema, when a one-stop shop cluttered with remakes, sequels, schlock, and box office turkeys increases the ability of executives to distribute more of what they own.

Whatever AT&T launches after FilmStruck will not satisfy film lovers, but we may still give our money to the mega-corporation that killed a wonderful experiment because there may be no other place for us to go if we want to revel in some of these great works. And AT&T is counting on that to compete in the streaming wars that threaten to further degrade our collective consumption of art and culture.

Subscribers desperately hope the suits, who work at a mega-corporation which controls so much of our culture, will relent and allow the service to continue. A petition to save FilmStruck on Change.org has over 8,500 signatures (with several even donating to give the campaign a boost).

But it is abundantly clear that FilmStruck is a casualty of the AT&T-Time Warner merger, and the loss of FilmStruck is a result of rampant media consolidation, which has accelerated exponentially with the vast expansion of the Internet.

With the merger, AT&T owns the content of Warner Bros., HBO, DC Comics, Cartoon Network, half of CW, and Turner Classic Movies. It plans to launch a streaming service in late 2019 that will compete against Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney, and others. (Incidentally, the corporation currently has a 10 percent stake in Hulu.)

AT&T’s streaming service will include content from all WarnerMedia properties. It will amplify the television and movie franchises of WarnerMedia and build up AT&T’s brand. In that sense, the new service will be the antithesis and any notion that it will have any of the charm of FilmStruck is foolish.

Those managing the service will depend on algorithms to determine what to program. Every uploaded piece of content will be present for the purpose of increasing the number of subscribers, and if certain selections do not perform well or they divide subscribers, they are likely to be removed. Removed content will become captives withheld from the world in a vault, unless executives can find a satisfying way to commodify the content.

Fortunately, Criterion Collection, which was a key component of FilmStruck, is not owned by AT&T (or Time Warner, Inc.). Criterion can develop a new partnership or service to make its library widely available for streaming without alienating film aficionados and continue the kind of curation that made FilmStruck engaging.

Now, let’s push corporate greed aside and pay tribute to FilmStruck.

When FilmStruck launched, Jennifer Dorian, general manager of TCM and FilmStruck described the service as a “departure from the timeless Hollywood classics” offered at TCM and a “genuinely distinct offering for the streaming marketplace, focusing on a thoughtfully curated experience around hard-to-find, critically acclaimed, independent films from the most celebrated libraries in the world.”

“We think dropping people down in a world of choices in this time of media saturation is not necessarily the best experience; we think people might actually like just being invited to watch something,” Criterion President Peter Becker declared. “So on Tuesday nights, we’re going to show a short and a feature, often a contemporary/classic matchup. On Wednesdays, we will feature a complete Criterion edition, with all of its supplements, as a theme in itself.”

For nearly two years, the service challenged media saturation. It was a kind of anti-Netflix. It did not encourage subscribers to binge-watch. It did not overwhelm subscribers by inundating them with content that subscribers would feel they had to quickly consume so they could participate in some fleeting cultural moment. It offered a refuge for subscribers from our fast-paced world and slowed everything down so we could truly digest and enjoy a film.

The collections of films often piqued our interests by exposing us to nooks and crannies of cinema we did not know existed. They prominently featured women directors, the work of underrepresented voices in film (black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab, African, etc), as well as producers or screenwriters that deserve as much recognition as well-known actors and director because they left an indelible mark on films, too.

“TCM Select” offered a chance to view a critically-acclaimed classic or re-introduce yourself to what made that film so influential.

Through the Criterion Channel, independent filmmakers clamoring to find distribution for their work were given an incredible opportunity to screen their work alongside classics, as well as impactful contemporary films.

It promoted a culture of risk-taking in art and championed films that broke new ground by exploring arenas aesthetically and sociopolitically that were previously avoided.

These are by no means the best films that FilmStruck offered, but I’ll never forget viewing their collection of “80s Indies,” which included Jonathan Demme’s “Something Wild,” and the delightful and eccentric film from Paul Bartel, “Eating Raoul.”

As one of the many who revels in the renaissance of film in the 1970s, particularly political thrillers of the era, seeing “Capricorn One” with Elliott Gould was fabulous. The premise of the government faking a Mars landing, as well as the main character’s commitment to unraveling a conspiracy which no one believes, is emblematic of that time period and resonates in the era of President Donald Trump.

Jules Dassin’s “Thieves’ Highway” starring Richard Conte, Barbara Lawrence, and Lee Cobb is a captivating working class story from 1949 that depicts the criminal underworld that affected the food shipping service in San Francisco.

Finally, there are the classic horror films produced by Val Lewton. “Cat People” is popular and a fine piece of entertainment, but “I Walked With A Zombie” is even better. The story revolves around a sugar plantation owner on Saint Sebastian, which is populated by affluent whites and descendants of African slaves. Themes of colonialism and xenophobia combine to give a basic zombie tale more depth.

So many film lovers made FilmStruck a part of a routine. Every Friday I looked forward to the next trove of treasures that would be made available. I woke up on Sundays ready to watch a film noir or perhaps a B-movie classic I had never seen.

AT&T executives may claim it was “lack of subscribers” that led to the service’s demise, but the reality is the service is not built for extracting enough money from consumers. It cannot co-exist with other services the corporation may offer. There can be no service simply for the celebration of cinema. They will create a one-stop shop filled with remakes, sequels, schlock, and box office turkeys that film lovers can sift through for gems if they have the patience — and some of us will.

We will give our money to a mega-corporation, which destroyed FilmStruck, because there may frankly be no other place for us to go to revel in these great works of film, and AT&T is counting on that to compete in the streaming wars that threaten to further degrade art and culture.

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