BFI launches subscription service, BFI Player+
James R | On 28, Oct 2015
Today, the BFI has launched its own subscription service, BFI Player+.
The new platform, which we broke the news of last month, costs £4.99 a month and arrives just over two years after BFI Player was first unveiled.
In 2013, the site offered 1,000 titles to the public on-demand for a rental fee. The platform cost half a million pounds to set up, thanks to funding from the DCMS, with plans to showcase smaller, independent titles and British films developed through the BFI Film Fund, as well as extend the reach of events at the BFI Southbank beyond London.
The BFI has continued to grow the service, relaunching a new, revamped site at the end of 2014 and, in summer 2015, debuting a new digital archive of Britain’s history on BFI Player. Called Britain on Film, the project is part of an ongoing process to digitally document the hidden histories and forgotten stories of people and places from across the UK, with 1 million views already racked up from people around the country.
Free access has always been a priority of the BFI, with 60 per cent of its original catalogue available to stream at no cost. The rest of the line-up, though, has to fight with an increasing number of rivals in the highly contested TVOD sector. In the pay-per-view market, which includes giants such as Google and iTunes, the BFI Player’s pricing of new titles at £10 is a costly one, although it matches the day-and-date premium of fellow art-house platform Curzon Home Cinema. Older titles on BFI Player cost a more competitive £4.50 to rent in HD.
Now, though, the BFI has entered the subscription race. BFI Player+ offers around 300 films for £4.99 a month, with no minimum contract. A 30-day free trial is available.
The service promises “No rubbish. Guaranteed.”, with titles divided into collections, including nationality, genre and filmmaker. There are nine Werner Herzog Films available to stream, as well as 17 Akira Kurosawa films, five John Cassavetes film, six early Hitchcock films, four David Lean films and six Powell and Pressburger films.
“Horror” includes 1988’s Dead Ringers, 1933’s The Ghoul and 1971’s Vampire Circus. A “Flare LGBT” collection includes Derek Jarman: Life As Art, Pink Narcissus and Nighthawks. “French Classics” include La Belle et la Bete and L’Age D’Or and La Regle du Jeu. “Japanese Classics” include I Live in Fear, 1954’s Godzilla, Sanjuro, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Ikiru,
The line-up positions the site as an alternative to more mainstream offerings from Netflix and Amazon Prime Video – and a direct rival to MUBI, which also provides world cinema and art-house titles for £4.99 a month. Unlike MUBI, where new titles are added daily and available for 30 days, the BFI Player+ catalogue is available on a long-term basis.
To help find content from the site’s streaming catalogue, the BFI has also recruited Mark Kermode to pick a must-see film every week. Mark Kermode’s first BFI Player+ pick is Hitchcock’s 1926 classic silent, The Lodger.
“We are passionate about bringing great cinema to audiences – it’s at the core of everything the BFI does – and BFI Player+ does exactly that,” says Edward Humphrey, Digital Director at the BFI.
“We bring a unique approach to subscription services: expertly curated cinema that takes audiences on a journey through the very best of film, from its early masterpieces through to contemporary greats. It’s brilliant that leading critic, Mark Kermode is as passionate about BFI Player+ as we are, and will be introducing a key film each week to help our subscribers discover outstanding cinematic gems.”
Today’s launch joins a wave of new subscription services in the UK, from Disney’s DisneyLife to YouTube Red. Indeed, the subscription streaming model has proven hugely successful for media companies, from Spotify to Netflix. According to Ofcom, SVOD services saw revenue jump 53 per cent in 2014 to hit £317 million – a growth driven largely by Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Sky, meanwhile, has enjoyed strong growth with its own contract-free subscription service, NOW.
Another key driver in the growth of VOD, though, is the rise of connected TVs, with streaming devices such as Amazon Fire TV, the NOW Box, Google Chromecast and Roku allowing people to watch titles from subscription sites in their living rooms. BFI Player and BFI Player+ is currently only compatible with desktop computers, Android and iOS devices. On iPhones and iPads, an app is available, while Android users can search for and play titles through their web browser.
Updated to include comment from Edward Humphrey [12pm, 28/10/15]