Streaming is big now. Big companies like Netflix and Hulu compete for your business. So do niche services like Crunchyroll and Shudder If you want to keep up with all the current hits, you need to subscribe to one or more. But did you know about library streaming services?
You can find free movie streaming. All you need is a library card. Not all libraries offer all the major services, but chances are yours offers at least one.
It works the same way as anything else in the library collection. The library pays the subscription and offers free movie streaming to its patrons. Both public and academic libraries offer streaming services.
You won’t find what’s hot at the box office right now, but you might find what was hot at the box office recently. In addition, you can find classic movies, documentaries, indie films, and educational movies and videos.
There are four major library streaming services, of which Kanopy is the largest. Its controversy with the libraries in New York City has recently made the news, so I’ll start by describing the others
Hoopla Digital is a service of Midwest Tape, a library service company that probably started out as an audiotape and videotape vendor. It has kept up with the times and offers DVDs, audiobooks, music, Blu-ray, and Playaway. Midwest Tape offers free movie streaming through Hoopla, partnering with libraries of all sizes.
Assuming your library offers Hoopla, you have access to hundreds of thousands of titles. These include movies, TV shows, ebooks, audiobooks, music, and even comics.
You can stream them or download them to watch offline. I suppose that means that the downloaded file self-destructs at the end of the loan period.
Besides computers, tablets, and phones, you can use your television.
OverDrive started in 1986 to promote literacy. With the rise of the internet and ebooks, it refocused its mission and started its content distribution service in 2000. The Rakuten Group acquired it in 2015, thus the official name Rakuten OverDrive.
OverDrive also works exclusively through libraries. It offers ebooks, audiobooks, and streaming video. It claims to work with all the major devices on the market. I don’t find mention of downloading on its website, but I suppose it’s available. OverDrive operates worldwide and claims the largest catalog of digital content in the world.
That’s digital content. It’s not limited to video. Free movie streaming appears to be secondary to promoting reading and literacy. Even so, OverDrive is a major presence among library streaming services.
BookFlix is part of Scholastic, a hundred-year-old company that specializes in literacy for children. You might remember using Scholastic products when you were in school.
I notice its digital offerings include TrueFlix, ScienceFlix, FreedomFlix, and a Watch & Learn Library. All its titles, therefore, have an educational objective.
Lots of people look for content for children on YouTube, but there’s always the danger of something unsuitable popping up. With library streaming services, you can find Scholastic videos to entertain your children. There will be no chance of exposing them to anything dangerous or upsetting.
Not long ago, libraries had to pay much higher than retail cost to buy DVDs. It was a special financial hardship for academic libraries. Founded in 2008, Kanopy offered an alternative.
Instead of buying DVDs at inflated prices, universities could provide access to Kanopy’s website and app. And Kanopy streamed nearly 20,000 titles. The catalog grows every week. In 2017, it aggressively pursued the public library market.
Kanopy offers free movie streaming of documentaries, classic cinema, independent films, and educational videos. Its website FAQ has links to find if your library or university offers Kanopy. Of course, you can also log on to your public or academic library site to find out. But Kanopy’s list offers a request form to fill out if you can’t find your library.
Public libraries and academic libraries necessarily differ. The average public library patron that uses Kanopy watches 2.2 videos per month. Kanopy charges the library $2 for every film viewed for more than five seconds.
At colleges and universities, professors might show videos in class or require students to watch for homework. Therefore, the university’s license allows for unlimited simultaneous viewing. It pays only for the most heavily watched content––$150 for every video viewed four or more times during the license year. Fewer than 40% of videos incur any fees.
In addition to its ordinary service, libraries can subscribe to Kanopy Kids.
Growing pains for library streaming services
I see an immediate problem with that five-second interval before Kanopy’s fee starts. If someone watches no more than that, it means they didn’t like it. Even watching as long as thirty seconds and stopping means a rejection.
What if very many patrons sample half a dozen videos before they find something they want to watch all the way through? The patron watches one movie and the library pays for six. Kanopy might be a free alternative to Netflix as far as consumers were concerned, but it can get expensive for libraries.
As of July 1, 2019, the New York City’s public libraries (New York Public Library, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library) discontinued Kanopy. Costs turned out to be way more than projected. And that’s with only about 25,000 of its 2 million cardholders using the service.
Academic libraries have a completely different pricing structure. Nevertheless, some of them have been forced to put limits on Kanopy use or stop offering it completely.
While no other public libraries have yet pulled the plug on Kanopy, the company recognizes their need to predict costs and manage their budgets. It has started to offer a “capped” program to put an upper limit on what a library will have to spend. It offered such a plan to NYPL, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement.
It’s not just Kanopy that risks pricing itself out of the market. One blogger describes his library’s recent limitation of Hoopla checkouts to four each month. More patrons wanted to use it that the library had budgeted for.
Library streaming services on such a large scale are fairly new. It’s in both the companies’ and libraries’ best interests to make free movie streaming affordable. So they will.
As Kanopy’s popularity grows, can your library continue to afford it? / Chris O’Falt, IndieWire. June 26, 2019
The best free and legal video streaming services offered by libraries / Adam Rowe, Forbes. February 26, 2019