With the closure of Filmstruck and sale of Fandor, it looks like the online audience isn’t there for a standalone classic movie service. Is there a model that will work?
SVOD classic movie services struggle, fail
Classic movie fans can’t seem to catch a break. The beloved but apparently under-subscribed FilmStruck closed its digital doors on November 29th. Fandor, the independent-film streaming service, stepped in with a special 50% discount offer for FilmStruck subscribers. Now its future seems cloudy. Fandor laid off nearly all its employees and transferred its assets to a new entity, Fandor ABC LLC, in anticipation of finding a buyer.
GlassRatner Advisory & Capital Group is managing Fandor ABC LLC. Seth Freeman, an executive of GlassRatner, says the service is not dead:
“The Fandor.com site will continue streaming movies without interruptions. It is not out of business or going out of business.”
How long things will stay that way is hard to say. A buyer of the business does have the right to continue to operate Fandor.com, according to former Fandor CEO Chris Kelly. However, there is no guarantee the purchaser will do so.
Not essential viewing for most
Like it or not, classic movies are not mainstream viewing for most people. When asked to pick their ideal channels in an a la carte pay TV package, just 18% picked Turner Classic Movies. It was in 58th place, far behind classic TV channel TVLand (41st.)
This low placement is a good indication that most cable customers spend little or no time watching TCM. Though the channel is one of the few places viewers can watch ad-free without paying a premium, more people would rather pay a premium and watch more modern movies. Cinemax ranks 35th, Starz 30th, and HBO 7th, all far above TCM.
$6 a month too high a price for classic movies
FilmStruck charged subscribers $6.99 a month for a basic subscription and $4 more to add The Criterion Collection of classic movies. It also had one of the best app experiences, built by Youi.tv, that this author has ever seen. Fandor charges $5.99 a month for a somewhat more eclectic mix of classic movies, documentaries, and international films.
WarnerMedia CEO John Stankey recently commented that Filmstruck and sister services Machinima and Boomerang had less than half-a-million subscribers between them. Machinima and Boomerang have not been closed, suggesting that FilmStruck may have been the weakest performing of the three. Given the questionable state of Fandor, it certainly hasn’t fared any better.
The failures of FilmStruck and Fandor does not bode well for the Spring 2019 launch of The Criterion Channel SVOD service. According to a press release from the company it will pursue the same model as Filmstruck:
“The Criterion Channel will be picking up where FilmStruck left off, with thematic programming, regular filmmaker spotlights, and actor retrospectives, featuring major classics and hard-to-find discoveries from Hollywood and around the world, complete with special features like commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, and original documentaries.”
Presumably, the subscription will be in the $6 price range. However, with a more limited range of content, it could be a tough sell even at a significantly lower price.
The right model for classic movies
Filmstruck and Fandor’s problems could suggest that the online video market cannot sustain a standalone classic movie service. Perhaps the best way to realize the value of the movies could be as they are today in pay TV, as part of a broader bundle of content. The Criterion Collection is backing both approaches. In addition to the standalone Criterion Channel, the movies will be available in WarnerMedia’s pending Q4 2019 service.
Why it matters
Classic movie SVOD services are struggling to build a viable service online.
Filmstruck has failed, and Fandor is struggling to survive.
The best way to reach consumers with classic movies online could be in bundles, as they traditionally have done in pay TV bundles.