Criterion Collection to launch streaming service in Canada

The Criterion Channel will make the boutique distributor's library of contemporary and classic cinema gems available online in one place

Boutique movie label The Criterion Collection plans to launch a streaming service in the U.S. and Canada in spring 2019.

Toronto Public Library card holders can already access just under 50 Criterion titles through streaming site Kanopy, but the new Criterion Channel will offer cinephiles instant access to the distributor’s immense catalogue of classic and contemporary films.

The free-standing service follows WarnerMedia’s decision to shutter streaming service FilmStruck – which carried the Criterion library but was not available in Canada – after two years.

“The Criterion Channel will be picking up where the old service left off, programming director spotlights and actor retrospectives featuring major Hollywood and international classics and hard-to-find discoveries from around the world, complete with special features like commentaries, behind-the-scenes footage, and original documentaries,” the company said in a statement on Friday.

Interested viewers can sign up early to become Charter Subscribers to enjoy special benefits and a slightly reduced monthly rate, which is currently listed at $10.99/month (USD).

The Criterion Channel will be another option for Canadians in an ever-expanding landscape, after Bell Media relaunched its Crave service with HBO Canada’s entire catalogue earlier this month

Meanwhile, Disney is gearing up to launch the service Disney+ in late 2019 to compete with Netflix and Amazon Prime. The move will also make programming from the world’s third-most popular streaming service, Hulu, available in Canada for the first time via Disney’s planned acquisition of Fox.

The funny thing is, Canadian arthouse fans are getting a Criterion Channel because of a cinephile panic Stateside. Many assumed that shuttering FilmStruck – which also included the Turner Classic Movies catalogue – would mean that content would unavailable, at least for a time.

The assumption was that newly merged Time Warner and AT&T didn’t have any interest in maintaining a “niche” library. However, the Criterion Channel will join HBO on WarnerMedia’s new consumer platform in the U.S.

Like Disney, WarnerMedia is busy gathering content to compete with the top two streaming sites, Netflix and Amazon PrimeVideo, to become essential platforms in their own right. Why would WarnerMedia ditch the old classics and niche curios when they need as much content as possible?

However, Canadians might feel the repercussions of consumer trends in the U.S. in less positive ways.

To compete with Netflix, AT&T is pressuring HBO to ramp up its number of productions, threatening the premium TV brand’s emphasis on quality over quantity.

“We need more hours a day,” John Stankey, the AT&T executive who became chief executive of WarnerMedia said at an employee town hall in the summer, the New York Times reported. The remark suggests HBO’s current output of an episode a week distributed over a few series isn’t good enough. The new boss seems to favour Netflix’s throw-money-at-everything-and-see-what-sticks mantra over HBO’s carefully curated top-dollar productions.

Disney is still finalizing its Fox acquisition, which will bring X-Men and all other properties tied to the superhero franchise under an umbrella that already includes Marvel, Pixar and LucasFilm. They’ve ordered two new Star Wars series (The Mandalorian and a new Rogue One spinoff revolving around Diego Luna’s character Andor) and are gearing up to pull their properties from Netflix, so it can all be housed in the Disney+ streaming service.

When and how Disney+ and WarnerMedia launch in Canada is still up in the air. They expect to premiere in the U.S. around this time next year, with an international rollouts to follow.


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