The Streaming Wars Are Upon Us!
A few years back, Sony and Toshiba went to war over providing high-definition DVDs for consumers. Sony’s Blu-ray technology and Toshiba’s HD DVD technology waged a war that lasted the bett
Published on February 16, 2011 | Filed under News

A few years back, Sony and Toshiba went to war over providing high-definition DVDs for consumers. Sony’s Blu-ray technology and Toshiba’s HD DVD technology waged a war that lasted the better part of eight years and included some pretty fantastic story arcs (backstabbing! betrayal!) by major production companies. Ultimately, Blu-ray technology won out, and consumers began spending the hundreds of dollars it would take to update their movie collections.

There were some consumers, however, that sat out this new wave of disc technology completely. Some of these consumers – myself included – figured that the next big thing in film distribution would be digital content – in other words, that it would be a waste of money to replace physical discs when you you would be able to download or stream any movies you wanted in just a few years. So while many of my friends were anxiously waiting to see if they should purchase The Rock in HD DVD or BluRay format, I continued to watch movies via Netflix Insant Streaming and made condescending remarks about how they had “bought into the hype.”

Well, karma’s a bitch, and now I get to deal with a content war of my very own.

On Tuesday, February 15th, the Criterion Collection announced that it would be making its collection of films available for instant viewing only through HuluPlus. While they will continue to offer their DVD and BluRay content through Netflix, they expect to remove all of their titles from Netflix instant streaming by the end of 2011. In a letter to CHUD.com, Criterion’s Jon Mulvaney provided a little bit more insight into their decision.

It has never been easy to find Criterion movies on Netflix — “Criterion” is not even a searchable term there. Compare that with Hulu’s willingness to develop a whole area of their site around us, brand the films associated with us, and develop the capability to show many of our supplements alongside our films. The energetic, independent, creative team at Hulu was willing to build their business around us in a way that just wasn’t in the cards anywhere else.

As a loyal Netflix customer, this news is rather distressing to me. The Criterion Collection has long been the gold standard of film distributors – collecting some of the greatest American and world cinema out there – and their penchant for celebrating the work of individual directors makes them a go-to destination for people who love genre movies (hmm, that sounds familiar for some reason….). In one day, Hulu has become an actual contender in the realm of streaming movies, and HuluPlus has gone from the butt of my jokes (“Why would anyone ever pay actual money for Hulu?”) to a service that I am legitimately considering.

If you are already a HuluPlus subscriber, rejoice, for a world of excellent content just got sent your way. Criterion currently has 150 titles available via HuluPlus and plans to work towards putting its entire catalogue – including special features and DVD extras – on HuluPlus in the near future. My gut – and my penchant for over-dramatization – tells me that these may very well be the first real shots fired in a war to control streaming content.

Paracinema's New York correspondent. Follow me on Twitter at @labsplice, or reach me by email at labsplice (at) paracinema.net.

  • When I saw this news up on the hulu site, it made me seriously consider paying for plus.
    Now that it seems as though the Criterion extras and features will also be available… it’s a done deal!
    Since we don’t have cable, netflix will remain a staple as well.
    When you really look at it from Criterion’s POV, it makes total sense.

  • Hmm…I don’t know about this being a “war”. I mean, Criterion is a very significant publisher and to see Netflix lose it is a sad thing…but the thing is, Criterion is something that would only be noticed by moviephiles (like myself) anyway, and one thing that one has to recognize is this: Netflix is tailor-made for the “masses”. So even if it does lose Criterion, it still profits from the Long Tail of other recognizable moveis. Also, the fact that one has to pay extra for it means that while they will certainly get revenue, profit will be harder to come by.

    Moviephiles may be willing to fork up extra bucks just to access content, but we’re a minority, one that a business can certainly profit from (especially Criterion), but won’t be able to truly spread with. Unless Hulu becomes more focused and becomes to Netflix what Harley Davidson is to Honda, Criterion will be just another name on a long list populated with new TV show episodes and mainstream movies.

    In more personal news, this puts a dent in my plans for a “Criterion Collection marathon” that I was thinking in doing around Spring Break for my Twitter followers. 🙁

  • Good points one and all – but I think that an exclusive contract with Criterion does give Hulu+ some serious credibility as a vendor. And if they are willing to be so accomodating for a niche distributor, then other companies may take notice. I stand by my Ft. Sumter comparison!

    • I’m digging the Harley to Honda comparison.

  • I agree with pretty much everything you have said here, including the thoughts on the physical HD/Blu-ray format. I am quite loyal to Netfilx, but I do think that with the success of instant streaming, they might need to be brought back down to earth a little and focus on keeping the customer as happy as they can to keep them from jumping ship.

    I would consider picking up Hulu Plus down the road if they expand to something that is almost a counter service to what Netflix doesn’t carry streaming wise. Plus, I have heard that the service will be available through XBOX Live at some point, which is what I use to watch my Netflix movies. In that case, I could have everything all right there with the possibility of finally being able to drop kick overpriced cable out of my life.

    To quickly bring it back to Criterion, I do find the news saddening as I have a TON of films on my queue, and I know there is no way I will see them all before they are gone. Certainly a bummer.