The news that The Criterion Collection will be available to stream exclusively through Hulu Plus set the movie community into a a bit of a frenzy yesterday. Some love the idea and some hate it. I'm on the fence about it and here's why.
Is such an embarrassment of riches available to us all at once a good thing?
Criterion is a brand name that many of us know and love. With this move - which starts with 150 movie titles and moves to upwards of 800 titles in a short span of time - Criterion will basically be chucking out their successful business model. As someone who collects their DVD's [and now Blu-ray's] I can tell you that one of the appeals of the company is there slow but eventual release of great titles. Every few months they bring out a few titles, which they announce three months [or so] in advance. This helps build excitement for the release and [I would think] boosts sales a bit. By releasing titles in such a manner they can build awareness and anticipation around the title. But by putting up to 800 titles out there so quickly - a good number of which are not yet on DVD or Blu-ray - for us to stream they are essentially burying the unreleased titles.
And so the effect might be that they bury the title and then kill it. Meaning that the excitement for future new releases will be much less exciting because the film will already be available to stream. So, essentially, the consumer would see that some previously unavailable Kenji Mizoguchi or Michael Powell title is coming soon to Blu-ray but then they would see that it is already available on Hulu Plus. So they would hook into Hulu Plus, watch the title and then no longer be interested in buying it.
Maybe they think they are giving the customer the best available option to see the films in their library? They certainly cannot be accused of withholding the titles now. But I am looking out for the future of Criterion as well as the life of these films. By presenting the options like this it would seem that the films will not get the proper [traditional model] release into the marketplace and this would affect both sales and awareness about a title. They must have signed a heck of a deal.
Exclusivity can have its faults
Another problem I find curious is that they are going to only now stream exclusively [by the end of 2011] through Hulu Plus. If a company wants maximum exposure it seems odd [and foolish] to narrow the options of your audience to only one streaming service - especially one that is not as widespread as NetFlix. Part of the deal Criterion found appealing was that Hulu will give them there own section making it easy for consumers to peruse titles. Apparently, NetFlix would not give them this deal.
Long time coming
I'm no Luddite. I love the idea that someday every title I want to see will be at my fingertips. And I know that this option is one Criterion feels is moving toward the future of home film viewing. But I can't help but feel they could do a better job of upholding their business model by continuing to whet our appetite and getting us excited for the films in the way that they have for so many years.
I don't have Hulu Plus but I will likely get it because the idea of having access to 800 amazing titles for a mere $7.99 a month is hard to resist. Of course, it also means the future of video stores and DVD and Blu-ray sales is pretty much history. But that is a different argument for a different time.