As AT&T rushes to pare down its business in an apparent attempt to not seem like a giant monopolistic media company sucking at the teat of the American public by relying on subsidies and overpriced data plans to stay afloat, some hard choices have to be made. The latest is devastating for anyone who likes old films. Variety reports that AT&T subsidiaries Warner Bros. Digital Network and Turner are shuttering FilmStruck, the Netflix-like streaming service for older films. If you’ll remember AT&T acquired Turner, Warner Bros., and HBO in a major deal in June.
FilmStruck, for the sadly uninitiated, is a service that allowed you to stream thousands of old movies and documentaries for less than the price of Netflix. For old movie lovers, this was an absolute boon; between the catalogs of Warner Bros., Turner, and Criterion, FilmStruck had the largest library of early films available to a mass audience. There are movies on the service that are virtually impossible for the public to view any other way—no VHS release, no readily available spools of film, and only the slightest chance of a screening on TCM.
I’m not as old as the earliest film pirates—who sold old spools when they weren’t dodging FBI raids in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Instead, I had the benefit of old movie stores with disintegrating VHS tapes, eBay, and a vibrant online community of collectors who could find, if not the hard copy of a flick, at least an archival digital copy. With FilmStruck, the need to collect and accumulate rapidly diminished. I only had to pay a couple of bucks, and I had movies I’d literally spent years trying to track down.
FilmStruck was also a wonderful salve for movie lovers tired of Netflix’s dwindling catalog of films not made by Netflix itself. That service was remarkable in its early years because it had what seemed like every DVD ever printed. But now the catalog is made up of some big, recent favorites and Netflix originals. Yeah, some of them are good, and the majority of people likely prefer newer releases, but the movie lovers whose subscriptions over the years propped-up Netflix tend to prefer variety. FilmStruck catered to those of us who were abandoned by Netflix for its bottom line.
And now we’ve been abandoned again, apparently because, as vocal as we might be, there aren’t actually enough of us out there to make an old-movie streaming service viable: According to a statement, published by Variety, from Warner Bros. Digital Network and Turner, the company decided to axe the service because of its small audience. “While FilmStruck has a very loyal fanbase, it remains largely a niche service,” the companies said. The statement goes on to suggest, in very business-y language, that some kind of service could appear in the distant future using the portfolio of FilmStruck. “We plan to take key learnings from FilmStruck to help shape future business decisions in the direct-to-consumer space and redirect this investment back into our collective portfolios,” the company explained.
The FilmStruck service will end for subscribers starting November 29, 2018.
So what’s left if you want to watch an old melodrama or silly musical? Not much. The Criterion Channel notably left Hulu for FilmStruck and will soon be without a streaming home.
In a statement released to subscribers, Criterion said:
When we launched the Criterion Channel in 2016, we had two goals: to ensure that our entire streaming library remained available, and to address our audience in our own voice. We’re proud of the work we’ve done, bringing curated programming and the full range of supplemental features to the streaming space, championing a diverse array of filmmakers from beyond our collection and creating original content that invites you into exciting conversations about cinema culture.
All this is very new, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated as we learn more details. But rest assured that we are still committed to restoring and preserving the best of world cinema and bringing it to you in any medium we can.
So hopefully. it will be able to pull off a deal with another service. Both Hulu and Netflix have been making aggressive acquisitions this year, and Disney and Apple are both expected to launch streaming services next year—any of which would be a fine home for Criterion. The rest of the WB and Turner catalogs (and as a Criterion collector, those are the ones I’m more interested in) will be left astray for the immediate future.
The statement released by the companies suggest AT&T could produce another streaming service in the future that includes those catalogs, which lines up with an announcement earlier this month that it plans to launch a service to rival Netflix and Amazon Prime. Presumably, that’s the new home for those classic flicks.
Correction: A previous headline for this article said AT&T is killing off FilmStruck. The company told Gizmodo in an email that its subsidiaries Warner Bros. Digital Network and Turner made the decision to shutter the streaming service, not AT&T. We regret the error.