AT&T Kills Dream Streaming Service of Film Fans

One had to wonder back in June when a federal judge cleared the way for telephone company AT&T to buy media giant Time Warner for $85 billion about what would happen to Time Warner’s almost too-good-to-be-true streaming service for cinema fans, FilmStruck?

On what for me now will be referred to as Black Friday, Oct. 26, subscribers learned via email that FilmStruck would shut down on Nov. 29.

Reading between the lines of the brief message from FilmStruck LLC, AT&T bean counters shut it down. That’s my interpretation from this, particularly the “truly a labor of love” line, i.e., not a moneymaker:  “We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for being a FilmStruck subscriber. It has been our pleasure sharing the best of indie, art house, and classic Hollywood with you. FilmStruck was truly a labor of love, and in a world with an abundance of entertainment options – THANK YOU for choosing us.”

FilmStruck began as a collaborative streaming service offering the classic Warner Bros. catalogue shown by the cable channel TCM, and the breathtaking world cinema of the Criterion Collection.

The Criterion Collection had previously been available on Hulu, but as soon as they were dropped from the Hulu lineup, I dropped Hulu for the vapid content that remained.

The FilmStruck service began in 2016, but I didn’t learn about it until earlier this year, and immediately signed up. The other streaming services are highly deficient in classic films. For a time I had belonged to Warner’s Archive streaming service, but I thought they were too miserly with their catalog, so I dropped out. This was probably just before the service announced it was morphing into FilmStruck with the Criterion Collection in order to “deliver the most comprehensive online catalog of classic films available, streaming iconic Hollywood classics, art house, indie, foreign and cult films.”

And it was true. So true. Amazingly true. Every Friday new titles and collections would be added. It was exciting to get home from work and check out the new movies. There were always several that had to go into the watchlist, or that you wanted to watch immediately.

Even on Black Friday there were new offerings that included a 1945 version of The Picture of Dorian Gray, starring one of my favorite actors of the period, George Sanders; a collection of seven movies written by Robert Louis Stevenson, including the 1932 and 1941 versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and 1941 and 1972 versions of Treasure Island; Jacqueline Bisset was Star of the Week, with a collection of seven French and American films that included Bullitt (1968), Day for Night (1973) and Rich and Famous, the last film directed by the great studio-era director George Cukor in 1981; Jacques Tourneur was director of the week, with eight shorts before his first feature with producer Val Lewton, Cat People, 1942, followed by I Walked with a Zombie, the film noir classic Out of the Past, and eight others; and, finally, Celia Rowlson-Hall was identified as that week’s Emerging Director, with four shorts and a silent feature called Ma, a story of Mother Mary as a contemporary woman.

That’s just one week of juicy film. I burned through a bunch of things the previous week when they featured both Japanese horror and the films of Terence Fisher of Hammer horror films fame.

Often the films are introduced either by Ben Mankiewicz of TCM or some well-known cinema personage, providing fascinating details and insights on the films and the people who made them.

I saw the entire Thin Man series with William Powell and Myrna Loy. I enjoyed the entire Miss Marples “Murder Most…” series with Margaret Rutherford as the titular sleuth.

I became a FilmStruck missionary, telling fellow film fans they need this service. I don’t know how many signed up. Sometimes I think not everyone is as rabid for classic and world film as I am. Obviously, AT&T is not.

I worry for that wonderful Warner Bros. collection and whether it will ever find a streaming home again for those of us who love the old westerns, prison and gangster flicks, and some of the great film noir.

For the Criterion Collection I have more hope that it will find a new streaming home. The company said as much in its own Black Friday email announcing the “sad news” of the end of FilmStruck.

“We’re proud of the work we’ve done, bringing curated programming and the full range of supplemental features to the streaming space, championing a diverse array of filmmakers from beyond our collection and creating original content that invites you into exciting conversations about cinema culture,” the email continued. “In the weeks ahead, we’ll keep you informed about the great programming you can watch on the Channel before it shuts down on November 29, and we’ll be trying to find ways we can bring our library and original content back to the digital space as soon as possible. Thanks to everyone who enjoyed FilmStruck, and we hope you’ll join us as we look forward to what the future brings.”

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