Classic Film in an SVoD Age

Classic film and SVOD

Viewing video content has never been easier with access on smartphones, tablets, smart TVs and computers. Has our relationship to Classic or archive film changed as our watching habits and sources of video content diversified? Crucially, has there been a shift in our relationship with Classic Film brought on by the popular and prominent SVoD platforms? We spoke with Nick Varley, former CEO of Park Circus, to get his thoughts on classic films and their future in an SVoD age.

While we’re in this race to spend billions and develop new original content, Nick highlighted that “there is certainly a huge interest for classic cinema and film history”. With all this new original content around, viewers will continue to consume the classics on SVoDs, demonstrating that these films have remained a key part of cinema and showcasing its illustrious history. However, the question is how do you present these films to the audience as one complete package?

However, in recent years, we have seen the rise of niche SVoDs. With news that Discovery is planning a specialist natural history streaming platform with BBC Studios content, and DAZN expands specifically in the sports streaming world, there is an appetite in the SVoD marketplace to find specialised platforms. The launch of the Criterion Collection streaming service on April 8th is in line with this rise of specialised streaming services.

Classic Colombia film noir and an extensive catalogue of David Lynch’s films is some of what customers expect when they sign up to the Criterion Collection. The launch marks an alignment between classic film and the SVoD marketplace. Of course, The Criterion Collection has always been known for its classic film library, thousands of titles released on home media formats with exclusive extras, but their new SVoD marks a substantial digital shift.

Yet, in the wider marketplace, the big streaming players like Netflix and Amazon Prime are also not short on classic film content. Many classics, or cult favourites, are enjoying a boost on these platforms. Nick was enthusiastic about the prospects of classic films on these platforms, highlighting that their subscriber count offers the chance that classic films will be appreciated by new viewers. From this perspective, SVoD platforms appear to offer a space for classic films to remain prominent and accessible.

However, Nick keenly discussed that the SVoDs need to do more to highlight these classics: “Streaming services need to guide viewers, to signpost them to classic films”, highlighting the possibilities of unique seasons – based on a director’s work, genre, or thematically linked. The likes of The Criterion Collection and MUBI curate film seasons for their subscribers, but Nick would love to see the large SVoDs showcase the classics.

Classic film has not only been showcased on SVoD platforms, but it has also enjoyed its showcasing as an event in itself. After the popular biopic Stan and Ollie was released at the end of 2018, events sprung up to showcase some of Laurel and Hardy’s original content in public spaces. With new technology enabling faster and easier access, it is the past that is illuminated, as audiences demonstrate a persistent appetite for classic film.

As Netflix has nearly reached 140 million subscribers, the question remains whether classic films are being capitalised on by these streaming giants. We’ve seen a specialised and targeted move by the Criterion Collection to do this, as they hold an extensive library of classic and cult content. Getting that on to streaming platforms shows an attempt to address this potential demand.

However, with the launch of Apple TV+, and giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, will the market become too saturated for classic film to thrive on a specialised SVoD platform? As the race to control content moves forward, could classic film become the target for large SVOD platforms? As Nick puts it: “It’s not quantity, its quality”. The major SVoD players may find that looking back to recent industry practices could be the best way to highlight classic films through specially curated film programmes.

At Lumina, we would just like to thank Nick Varley for his fascinating insight to the world of classic films and contributing his thoughts.