Warner Archive Instant: Behold the Future of Streaming! Oh, and Despair.
I don’t have cable, and I probably never will, at least under the current business model. As much as I’d love to have access to HBO, AMC, and maybe three other channels, I’m just not willing to pony up that kind of cash for the privilege of accessing several dozen reality TV and sports channels alongside those precious few I’d actually watch. I wait out the seasons and buy discs instead–so many discs–and like many others in this brave new era of cable-cutting I also rely heavily on streaming services. It used to be I could get by on just Netflix, but my insatiable hunger for films and quality cable dramas soon saw Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus added to my list. Even so, it all comes to under $30 a month and I assure you I get my money’s worth. Each app feels like it serves a special purpose, and I enjoy a wide variety of current and classic entertainment. Like all good things though, it’s all coming to an end.
May 1st, 2013: A date that has gone down in Internet history as “Streamageddon”. Although the unwashed masses populating the Internet’s various comment sections largely brushed the event off with their battle cry of “Who cares, it’s all old movies anyway”, my Netflix Instant queue was absolutely gutted. I tried to keep up, but even at a rate of two to three movies a day after I saw the impending cuts, I still missed out on a bunch of good ones. All told, Netflix lost in the neighborhood of 1,500 titles, almost exclusively those licensed from MGM and Warner Bros. Netflix issued a statement assuring users that it was all part of the natural “ebb and flow” of the service, and that some titles had to rotate out to make room for the new.
Unfortunately “The Old” is over a thousand classic films and “The New” is a sparse handful of recent and semi-recent blockbusters (along with their respective mockbusters, naturally), as well as a smattering of promising indie titles. There is no rotation, not really. Those classics aren’t coming back anytime soon. By now the studios have smelled blood in the water, and the feeding frenzy is on. They are all pretty certain they’re going to be able to get their own $10 a month from each and every Netflix viewer, and so it’s back to the grand old days of vertical integration and the Studio Era, because that didn’t crumble for a reason. Interestingly, Netflix doesn’t seem all that concerned by this turn of events, and they appear to be pretty confident that those same viewers are going to continue to subscribe to their service when all they offer is a handful of “Netflix Originals” and the shambling husks of whatever long-dead shows they manage to reanimate through vile necromancy.
Now, the point of this article is not simple street-corner preaching about the End Times of Streaming. It’s tangentially about that, yes, but what I really want to talk about is the new service I just signed up for. Left curiously wanting by Netflix’s all-star new release lineup featuring such gems as Hansel and Gretel Get Baked and Atlas Shrugged: Part II, I fell for Warner Bros.’ plan hook line and sinker, and signed up for the two-week trial of Warner Archive Instant. On the surface, it sounds pretty incredible. The focus of service, according to the site header, is “Rare and Hard-to-Find Movies and TV”. The selection primarily spans the 1930’s through the early 60’s, with a small handful of newer films as well as a few silents, and features offerings from the archives of Warner Bros., MGM, and RKO. This, as the kids say, is my jam. It’s ostensibly a film nerd’s paradise, with categories such as “Pre-Code”, “Film Noir”, and “Mondo/Cult”. The entirety of TCM’s pricey “Forbidden Hollywood” collection is on here, as well as a sampling of British-made horror from Hammer Studios, and a few amazing forgotten gems like Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, or Fritz Lang’s Fury.
Like I said, things are great on the surface. But by the end of my first night of the trial period, there were already too many flaws to overlook. I love the focus on classics, but I am undeniably in the minority on this one. Modern audiences have a tendency to shun black and white entirely, and would without hesitation watch the worst film of 2013 before the best film of 1940. And on the subject of the best films, they are curiously absent here. There’s no Citizen Kane, and no Casablanca. The “Westerns” category is devoid of anything along the lines of The Magnificent Seven, A Fistful of Dollars, or for that matter any top-tier appearances by Clint Eastwood or even John Wayne. There are good films here, many of them, but almost nothing that would cause even a minor blip on the radar for a casual viewer. So how do they plan to monetize this thing? Very few people are going to come actively looking for any of these movies, and people like me are going to burn through the best of the 383 available titles pretty quickly, making a long-term subscription unlikely for even the most dedicated afficionado.
Adding to the faults, TV streaming is via Roku-only, no smart TVs or game consoles are currently supported. Even with a channel store update, Warner Archive Instant cannot be added from the Roku itself, it requires a website log-in and the use of the “add private channel” option. When using the service via the Roku, there’s no way to bookmark a movie to be watched later, no sorting options other than the default, and no search feature. The small selection comes in handy here, because if you want to go back for something you’re going to have to dig through the various categories until you find it again. And even with all these limitations, it costs $9.99 per month, $2.00 more than Netflix.
To recap: The channel itself is hidden until you actually sign up for it. The selection is interesting for film students or die-hard fans of the classics, but the name recognition for most viewers will be somewhere near zero. No sorting, no searching. And it’s sort of expensive! Oh, and so far I’ve experienced momentary but significant artifacting during streams, on a connection that can handle other services at full HD with no hiccups. That’s probably worth a mention. I’m going to keep my subscription going for a little bit just to see if Warner is actually going anywhere with this, but I couldn’t in good conscience suggest that anyone else do the same.
Posted on July 3, 2013, in Movies, Opinion, Reviews, Tech News, Television and tagged Classic Movies, Film Noir, Forbidden Hollywood, Instant Streaming, MGM, Netflix, RKO, Roku, Warner Archive Instant, Warner Bros. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.