The Criterion Streaming Channel is in a Kind-of Soft-Launch Beta

The Criterion Collection gained an almost divine status in the film world, at least to me, at the dawn of the DVD age. As DVDs were being dumped on to an insatiable DVD-buying public, the overall quality of some titles, particularly those that catered to a small audience hungry for classic, arthouse, or non-US fare, were sadly of dubious quality. Some were poor transfers. Others offered no “bonus features,” which was a bit of a waste of the multi-title DVD format. And some non-English titles displayed English-language subtitles that were burned into the image.

Criterion changed this. When you bought a Criterion disk, you knew you were getting a high-fidelity transfer, at least one bonus feature—such as filmmaker’s or a film critic’s commentary—and at least one set of removable subtitles and captions, often in multiple languages.

Criterion quickly adopted to the streaming-video age by making many of its titles available on a number of services. I seem to remember some Criterion titles available on Netflix for a while. Then for a long time, Hulu Plus became the exclusive home of Criterion Collection. And beginning in 2016, the Criterion Collection moved to the nascent FilmStruck video service. That ended last November when AT&T Warner Media abruptly shuttered the service to many cinephiles’ sorrow.

Shortly after FilmStruck’s closure, Criterion announced that it would be launching its own streaming service—The Criterion Channel—in 2019. They posted a signup page for Charter subscribers, offering them an extended free trial and a discounted membership. I entered my email and with the holidays and new year, promptly forgot about the service and hadn’t thought about it since.

Earlier this week, I received an email with a teaser. It featured a close-up shot of an envelope with a brief “Here’s your key. Bye” message written on it.

The email challenged us to identify the source of the close-up with a link to the new Criterion Channel website. The landing page allows Charter subscribers to stream this film. (The close-up image, by the way, is from Wong Kar Wai’s Chun-King Express.)

Currently, the service is in a kind-of soft-launch beta until its actual launch on April 8, 2019. Between now and then, Charter subscribers are allowed to stream one movie a week through a web browser or through some Internet-connected TVs.

I tried to stream the film from my iPad to my Apple TV and again from my iPad using a Lightning-to-HDMI adapter. It didn’t work.

However, despite this technical limitation, I was still able to watch the film on my iPad. The website promotes that the Criterion Channel will be “available anywhere” on “desktop, Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, iOS, and Android devices.”

In addition to getting early access to the Criterion Channel, Charter subscribers will also get $1 off a monthly subscription or $10 a yearly subscription for as long as their account stays active. A Charter subscriber will also get an extended 30-day trial. Presumably a trail starting after April 8 will be a shorter 7-day—or 14-day—trial.

After AT&T Warner Media shut down FilmStruck, a few thoughts came to mind. First, why didn’t Apple buy the Criterion Collection and offer that as part of its forthcoming streaming service? Second, why didn’t I get FilmStruck? Now that it’s gone, I predict that it will attain the reverence and cult-status similar to that of the Z Channel’s demise in the late 1980s. I won’t be able to share in the nostalgic melancholy of having it ripped away from me.

Although I didn’t get FilmStruck and can stream a lot of Criterion films through other venues, I love early-adopter deals like these and already signed up as a Charter subscriber. You should too.

Note: After posting this story, I was able to figure out how to stream to my Apple TV, but I think it’s a secret, and I won’t reveal it here. Yet.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. If you buy something through those links, I will earn a commission fee.

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