Today, the BFI unveiled the BFI Player, a new video on-demand platform that will make the best of British film available to the whole country. From day and date releases for new movies to hundreds of previously unavailable old videos, it’s a thrilling addition to the VOD landscape.
BFI Chair Greg Dyke hailed the service as “the BFI’s boldest move since the NFT launched”. He’s not wrong.
Here’s what you need know.
The BFI Player will launch on Wednesday 9th October and offer 1,000 titles – both old and new – to the public on-demand. The platform arrives as VOD transforms the UK’s viewing behaviour, even prompting the BAFTAs and Emmys to dish out awards to titles shown only online.
But the BFI Player will not compete with existing commercial VOD services. The platform, which cost the BFI £500,000 to set up and has also been funded by the DCMS (despite major arts cuts), will add “choice and creative diversity” to the VOD market, said BFI Director of Digital Edward Humphrey.
Indeed, with all your Breaking Bads and House of Cards, British and independent film is currently rather under-represented on video on-demand platforms. But with the BFI’s Hitchcock restorations now touring in 24 countries, demand for older films has never been stronger. And with Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant and Paul Wright’s For Those in Peril both earning acclaim at Cannes – not to mention filmmakers from Ben Wheatley to Richard Ayoade producing sterling work – British cinema has never been better.
It’s the perfect time for the BFI to go VOD.
The BFI Player will launch with seven “collections” designed to showcase British cinema, as well as extend the reach of events at the BFI Southbank far beyond London:
Backed by the BFI will show a collection of contemporary British films, each supported by the BFI’s Film Fund.
GOTHIC: The Dark Heart of Film will tie in to the BFI’s blockbuster season celebrating all things twisted this winter.
Cult Cinema will highlight the Flipside of British cinema, celebrating weird and wonderful films that have slipped through the cracks of history.
Sight & Sound Selects will include a selection of film classics curated by Sight& Sound magazine.
Inside Film will feature documentaries and interviews about the art and industry of filmmaking
Edwardian Britain will present, for the first time ever, a staggering 28 hours of extraordinary footage from pioneering filmmakers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon, who captured Britain on tape between 1900 and 1913. Expect gems from the first ever recording of Manchester United playing football to Queen Victoria’s funeral.
And finally, BFI London Film Festival Presents, which will cover exclusive red carpet action, talent interviews and special behind-the -scenes footage from the BFI’s flagship film festival – and a selection of films and highlights from previous festivals, including masterclasses with Viggo Mortensen and titles such as Rust & Bone.
It’s an impressive range of content that already stands apart from other on-demand channels. Best of all? You don’t even have to use the channels to navigate – you can also search via a map, which will show you old British film footage relevant to the area where you live.
It’s not all old black-and-white footage: the BFI is looking forward too. The BFI Player will include day and date releases for several new films.
Clio Barnard’s The Selfish Giant will hit cinemas and the BFI Player simultaneously on Friday 25th October.
Even more excitingly, the BFI’s restoration of The Epic Of Everest (1924) will launch on the BFI Player on Friday 18th October – the same day as its premiere in the Archive Gala slot at the BFI London Film Festival.
The BFI Player will consist of 1,000 titles, with roughly 60% available for free.
Pricing for paid titles will range depend on the content, with library titles priced at £2.50 (SD) and £3.50 (HD). New features will cost £10. Short films will cost £1 to view.
All titles will be available on a rental basis under the now standard 30-day licence (and a 48 hour window once the content has been played).
There are currently no discounts for BFI Members, although that’s something the BFI is “working on”.
All content will be available in HD – “the same quality as Apple iTunes” – with titles streamed at an adaptive bitrate to accommodate for varying broadband speeds.
Online video playback in HD quality is provided by Ooyala and the web user interface has been designed and built by Capablue.
The BFI Player is web-based, so will be compatible with all PCs, computers and tablets. An app will be available for tablets, although it will direct devices back to the website.
BFI Player apps on other devices, such as games consoles, are still being negotiated and will be announced at a later date.
The BFI Player app on Samsung Smart TVs will continue as is for now, although the BFI hopes to one day move its full transactional model onto the televisions.
The BFI Player will “provide a richer and wider relationship between distributors and fans of independent cinema across the UK”. That’s the official line. And it’s hard to put it better.
As Greg Dyke put it, the BFI has the best film library in the world, but nobody could see it – until now. The BFI Player marks the BFI’s union of past, present and future for the film industry, while also opening up cinema to those who aren’t based in London.
Even better than that, it offers a dedicated platform for independent cinema on a scale that doesn’t exist on any other VOD service – not to mention day and date releasing to help them find audiences.
The inclusion of paid short films alone is a hugely significant move – it’s the first time a pay-per-view distribution model has ever existed online for short films. After years of being the calling card for an up-and-coming director that is never widely shown, the BFI Player offers filmmakers a platform to release their short films as a commercially viable product.
Rising above it all is The Epic of Everest, which debuts on the BFI Player 89 years after the climb and 60 years after Everest was officially conquered.
With Netflix, blinkbox and others all conquering the market in the past few years, the BFI have had an equally long climb to get to this point. From the summit, things are looking great.
Phase 2 of the BFI Player will launch early next year. Goodness knows what they’ll be adding to it next.
Want more information about the BFI Player? We chatted to Edward Humphrey, BFI Director of Digital, at the launch. Wonder what streams in his spare time? Watch this space to find out.