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FilmStruck's Final Days


This is a kind of obituary for a company. The movie streaming service FilmStruck shut down yesterday. It offered a deep library of classic movies, along with hard-to-find indie and foreign films. It was loved by movie nerds and historians and students. NPR's Andrew Limbong has this appreciation.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Before we get to the headier question of what exactly is lost to culture and film history now that FilmStruck is gone, let's track its rise and fall. FilmStruck began two years ago as a collaboration between Turner Classic Movies, owned by AT&T, the Criterion Collection and Warner Bros. Then this summer...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Now breaking news. A judge has just ruled on the AT&T and Time Warner merger.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: AT&T will be allowed to buy Time Warner in an $85 billion deal.

LIMBONG: The merger combines Turner Classic Movies with Warner Bros., along with a lot of other programming like HBO. At a conference sponsored by Vanity Fair in October, WarnerMedia president John Stankey announced a new streaming service from Warner. It doesn't have a name yet, but it's set to launch at the end of next year to compete with Netflix, Amazon and Disney.


JOHN STANKEY: We have a library that's unmatched in terms of history and what's available in that. And there's a tremendous amount of value...

LIMBONG: Dan Rayburn is a digital media analyst at the market research group Frost & Sullivan. He says streamers need a broad offering to attract subscribers.


DAN RAYBURN: Niche streaming services, like FilmStruck was, which just doesn't have a lot of subscribers - it's too expensive to run it as a stand-alone entity.

LIMBONG: So the culling began. DramaFever, a Warner Bros. streaming service for Korean drama shows, shut down. Super Deluxe, a Turner studio that made mostly comedy videos, also ended. And then it was FilmStruck's turn, which leaves film nerds high and dry.

REBECCA PAHLE: If you look for a movie, like, before the 1980s on Netflix, you're just screwed (laughter).

LIMBONG: Rebecca Pahle is an editor at Boxoffice but more importantly, a FilmStruck fan. She says a lot of the stuff she watched on FilmStruck were old movies that aren't on Amazon or Netflix. And there were also movies that broke the idea that old movies are stodgy and boring.

PAHLE: They're just really, really fun, like Busby Berkeley musicals.


GINGER ROGERS: (Singing) Oh, we're in the money. Come on, my honey. Let's lend it, spend it, send it, rolling around.

LIMBONG: Monica Castillo is a freelance critic who's written for NPR. She says FilmStruck introduced her to filmmakers she never would have otherwise seen, like Belgian director Chantal Akerman.

MONICA CASTILLO: I hadn't had the chance to see any of her films before in their entirety, so I finally got to start with "No Home Movie," which was the last one she made before she died. And I was hooked.

LIMBONG: Many of these movies won't disappear for long. In fact, the Criterion Collection already said it's starting its own streaming service. Analyst Dan Rayburn says if there's money to be made, the films owned by WarnerMedia will be rebundled and repackaged as part of their new streaming service.

RAYBURN: That, hopefully, they can try and reach a wider audience with people that like more of the content, so they can get more subscribers so that, hopefully, they can actually make money from it.

LIMBONG: WarnerMedia announced yesterday that this new service will include three tiers - entry level, premium and a third that'll add, quote, "an extensive library of WarnerMedia and licensed content." No word yet on which tier you get Busby Berkeley. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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