Criterion Comes to Hulu

I try and follow the Criterion Collection’s online moves, as they face many of the same challenges that certain literary publishers face. I’ve written previously about their Auteurs long-tail experiment and try-before-you-buy innovation; now it seems they’ve uploaded several titles to Hulu Plus.

So you have a high-end boutique DVD packager moving more and more into the digital space. Sure, they’re probably worrying about whether online subscription models will cannibalize physical unit sales. But it’s a minor worry compared to obsolescence. While technologists claim these kinds of shifting business models are inevitable, it’s worth noting that Criterion runs a real risk in alienating their core audience.

While I appreciate what’s being done for the ADD crowd, I don’t know who these people are that would prefer to watch such glorious films in an inferior compressed streaming format, let alone a cell phone with a 4″ screen. The times are a-changin’, for sure, but it just really seams like a step back for the quality of these films.

-Comment by “Chris” on the Criterion’s blog post

This is an interesting case where the reach to attract more audience might strain the Criterion brand’s core values of quality and top-level presentation. The legacy customers may begin to feel like Chris, even though the company hasn’t changed a thing about the physical DVDs we all know and love.

…Which is the real tricky part. This isn’t often discussed in publishing: can you innovate at the expense of your core business?

Criterion by no means takes a kitchen sink approach–I believe they’re incredibly smart people who take measured steps when it comes to partnerships like this one. But if even 5% of their DVD customers feel the brand’s been tarnished by their move to a website with “The Bachelor” listed as a “Popular Show,” I wonder if they’ll consider it a net gain or loss.

Again, I don’t pretend to know the financials here. But the parallels to publishing are clear; as people talk about building brands (whether on the publisher, imprint, or author level), it’s something to keep in the back of one’s mind.

On the other hand, this just got me to join Hulu Plus.

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Filed under convergences, film, industry

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