The British Film Institute (BFI) has launched BFI Player+, a subscription-based video service offering selected content from mainly catalogue titles. As is becoming standard with SVoD, the service requires no contract and at £4.99 a month is priced £1 below Amazon Instant and Netflix (Basic) SVoD services. From launch, around 300 films are available for streaming and as with the transactional service, this is likely to see numerous additions throughout the year. The BFI is a registered charity which has a public role promoting film in the UK.
Users of the service will be presented with a familiar panel-based VoD interface which breaks content down into traditional genres such as Comedy and Drama as well as slightly more specialised, or curated collections such as ‘Britain on Film’ and various film festival collections. Unlike Amazon, which also maintains both a transactional and subscription service, the BFI has chosen to separate its subscription content from that which requires a transactional payment (already available through the original BFI Player), avoiding frustrating subscribers by presenting them with an additional pay wall.
At first glance a subscription service offering only 300 movies at a price point just £1 below competitors seems destined to fail. However the BFI offers a very specific viewer experience. Content is not targeted toward binge viewing as may be applicable to a Netflix style of video consumption. Instead titles such as ‘The Red Shoes’, ‘Throne of Blood’ and collections of early Hitchcock target film enthusiasts with a taste for critically acclaimed cinema. While pursuing a niche set of consumers will inevitably limit subscriber base, it also serves to protect the BFI by ensuring that the service cannot be outflanked by more mainstream services.
Content curation is another area which sets the BFI Player+ apart. Rather than using an algorithmic recommendation engine, content is tagged and placed into more stringent categories. While less sophisticated, this approach adds value to the limited amount of content on the service and allows users to browse in a more meaningful manner. Additionally, film critic Mark Kermode will be making weekly recommendations selected from content on the service. These take the form of a short video introducing a film and giving a synopsis of what makes that particular title special. Curation methods add value, ease discovery, and are relatively simple to implement. Content discovery is a problem that affects VoD platforms far more than their linear counterparts and curation and implementing a strong curation method is likely to increase viewing time and reduce churn.
The BFI Player+ will no doubt build on the relative success of the organisation's existing transactional service which last year grew 50% in terms of visits and expanded its content offering to slightly more than 1000 titles. However, given the niche content involved, a subscription base the size of Amazon Instant Video or Netflix will not be attainable. Instead, a smaller, more stable base of film enthusiasts will become the charities core customers for the BFI Player+.