Collaboration and curation: How Arrow is setting new targets for its streaming service
James R | On 03, Apr 2021
This spring has seen the launch of Arrow, a new streaming service from Arrow Films. Bringing together cult favourites, international classics and genre hits, the subscription platform enters a crowded online space that has seen the likes of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Sky face growing rivalry from Disney+ and Apple TV+.
How can a small, new contender stand out from the pack? We sat down with Arrow Film’s Head of Digital, Daniel Perry, to talk Arrow’s unique approach to online entertainment.
Going live during a global pandemic is at once perfect timing and a whole new challenge, with US newcomer Quibi notably failing to get off the ground last year. But Arrow’s launch was always on the cards for about now regardless, with the pandemic only delaying things by a few months.
“We kind of had this planned from about two and a half, three years ago,” Daniel explains.
But taking time in a fast-moving market turns out to be typical of Arrow’s patient philosophy. For about four years, Arrow Film has had a channel on Amazon Prime Video Channels – called Arrow Video – and has looked at the response to that, as well as how other companies have done things.
“The big difference is the amount of time, debate and discussion around every single part of this service,” says Daniel. “These tiny little things that no one cares about, we have gone weeks and weeks discussing. That takes time, getting all this stuff delivered, setting it up, going through the developing.”
This perfectionist attitude originates from Arrow’s long-standing physical media legacy – the company’s not above pushing back its own release dates in order to get a limited edition disc up to scratch.
“It’s got to be good, it’s got to stand out, it’s got to look great, all the bonus stuff, all those kinds of things, have got to be at a level that we are OK with,” nods Daniel.
The result is a slick app and website interface that manages to overcome the initial hurdle of not frustrating users from the off. But that also means the company has had the time to consider what exactly Arrow will offer – and the answer is surprising.
The name – just “Arrow”, rather than “Arrow Films” – is no accident, with the platform streaming not only its cult, genre and horror titles of the Arrow Films label, but also European gems, Asian masterpieces, rediscovered Westerns and other new exclusives. The aim to both capitalise on Arrow’s built-in reputation and audience but also build on it to produce something wider.
“We’re very fortunate that we’ve got that trust in the various labels that we’ve got on the physical side, and it does give you that initial starting point,” says Daniel. “Audiences say, ‘We can trust these guys,’ but on the flip side, it can be a little bit of a challenge because we didn’t want people with a certain amount of expectations of what this was going to be.”
Arrow’s most unexpected step to broadening its library is not only focusing on what it has in its own catalogue, but also licensing titles from other companies:
“That’s going to be coming in a rapid rate the rest of this year, where a lot of the new stuff that we’re beginning to add to the service is going to be non-Arrow Video.”
It’s an unexpected step for a company that’s both streaming provider and distributor – and one that’s at odds with the fragmented nature of a digital landscape where not just content, but exclusive content, is considered king.
“We still work with everybody,” enthuses Daniel. “That’s very important.”
“We still work with everybody, that’s very important…”
Arrow still has exclusive acquisitions, such as The Stylist, which arrived last month, Clapboard Jungle on the way this month and the recently acquired Threshold on the way soon. But while a lot of companies – particularly bigger companies – operate on an us-versus-them philosophy, Arrow aims to be collaborative instead:
“There’s no point competing in that world, that’s like the world of the Gods. We don’t have the money or content, but there’s a better way to be and this is something I’ve always said, and that’s to be collaborative and to work with everybody we possibly can for as long as we want to and have those relationships.”
That means licensing out its titles to other platforms, such as MUBI and Shudder, as well as bringing in titles from other distributors. At the centre of this is the notion of choice – rather than forcing someone to watch something in a specific way, or making the decision on a viewer’s behalf whether they can see something on disc, to buy and rent or to subscribe and stream, Arrow aims to make its titles available at every access point possible.
“If somebody sits there and says, ‘I just want to watch this on my TV at home,’ we want to give you that choice,” says Daniel. “But we’re not going to tell you you have to do it this way.”
That means, for example, that Arrow Video within Amazon Prime Video Channels isn’t going anywhere at the moment.
“If you just want Arrow Video built into your Amazon Prime subscription, that’s fine.”
“There are no plans right now to change that. The channels do really well, we’ve got a really good, you know, subscriber base there,” he explains. “The difference will be is, you know that service will primarily just serve our video content, you won’t get any additional, you know, bonus stuff, you won’t get any of the third party stuff. If you just want the Arrow Video stuff built into your Amazon Prime subscription, that’s fine as well.”
In that sense, Arrow Video on Amazon Prime Video Channels works as a gateway into Arrow’s fully-fledged alternative – and that notion of choice then works for both consumer and company, helping to put Arrow in front of those who might not otherwise discover it.
“There’s going to be a core audience for us that are all on for the ride, always passionate for what we do, and we have nothing but absolute love for these people supporting us for so long,” says Daniel. “But there’s also all these other people out there. And, you know, maybe they aren’t Blu-ray buyers, you know, maybe they’re not physical consumers. That’s an interesting audience to have a conversation with, we may bring them in with our approach and with titles that are, you know, a little broader, such as Donnie Darko.”
Arrow TV – another Amazon Prime Video Channel from the company – fits right into that philosophy, putting a library of international TV in front of Amazon users. It will also remain active, with a strong response from subscribers already there, but as Arrow TV continues to expand its presence on Arrow’s own streaming service, that diversified catalogue (including titles such as Gomorrah) will also help to bring a wider range of audiences into Arrow’s fold.
“There’s a big audience for foreign-language dramas or dark crime dramas, which is kind of a lot of what we do,” says Daniel. “We were a company that for many years, the main growth area was TV. There’s still a lot of good TV series from particularly mainland Europe that have never been seen in the UK.”
All of these collaborations feeds into the second string in Arrow’s bow: curation. As a content owner and distributor, Arrow can keep its core collection of titles at the heart of its platform, with the majority of those never being removed. Instead, they form a base to build things around.
“You’re never gonna see, you know, 300 titles in a month going up on the service, we just simply won’t do it,” Daniel explains. “The curation kind of moves in a way that makes sense for everybody. At the moment, we’ll move stuff around if we feel there’s too much, if we feel like in a month we’re not able to give enough space for a certain film or a certain collection.”
As we speak, a large whiteboard behind Daniel has plans scribbled on it for the coming month. A third party deal might bring in a new title, which could then inspire another collection to be licensed, which might then push something else a month back.
“That is a really good problem to have,” he grins.
“This is a platform for filmmakers to talk about their films and present them differently.”
At the same time, Arrow is keeping up its commitment to bonus content, something that has always been fundamental to its physical media releases – The Stylist will be released on Blu-ray in the summer – and is often forgotten about on other subscription platforms. Branded as “Arrow Stories”, they range from documentaries and interviews to visual essays.
“We’re trying to do a lot more with that space… like what’s the cultural impact of a film, you know, or something even more bizarre. It could be just one scene that somebody wants to talk about. The example I’ll give is Jug Face, which we’ve just launched in the US. We knew it was coming and we really wanted to do more with this really interesting film, and we just got in touch with the director, Chad, and just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this film coming up.’ And it developed into a series of additional videos going with that film that you won’t be able to see anywhere else that gives the director more time to look back at a film that was very important in his career. And we’ve got Lauren Ashley Carter, the lead actress in that film, and all that got pulled together within three and a half weeks and live on the service.”
That approach means the shelf life of a film on Arrow can also stay fresh.
“We can continue to revisit these films forever,” agrees Perry. “In three years’ time, one of our films might have 58 different videos, because we’ve gone back six months from now on and said ‘Hey, that’d be a really great visual essay.'”
The result is a small streaming service focused on the personal touch that comes from collaborating and collecting ideas with other people.
“We’re not funded by a ginormous global conglomerate, we definitely aren’t anywhere near the likes of Netflix,” admits Daniel. “But that allows us to be a bunch of people that love films. This is a platform to get these films out there, give filmmakers a sandbox, a platform for them to show their films, talk about their films and present their films differently.”
“Sometimes it’s just about having fun,” he adds. “Sometimes it’s just about watching some cool stuff.”
A subscription to Arrow costs £4.99 a month, with a 30-day free trial available to new users. Find out more at arrow-player.com