At the beginning of the week the Criterion Collection, the taste-making curators of obscure and out of print films, dealt a massive blow to Netflix by signing an exclusive deal with the online streaming site Hulu. By the end of 2011 all of Criterion’s films will be pulled from the Netflix site and will only be available to stream among many other films via the pay per month premium service Hulu Plus.
Hulu has begun their acquisition by incrementally making available films from the collection online. As of today, 150 Criterion Collection films are available to be watched through the Hulu Plus service. The entire collection spans a staggering 800 films making Hulu’s selection considerably more robust than before the deal. While the collection as a whole will only be available to paying members, many of the films will be able to be viewed for free with advertisements. However, apparently ads will play in the front of films for paying customers.
One of the hallmarks of Criterion is their supplemental features and one of the drawbacks of streaming the films has always been the loss of this essential characteristic of the experience. However, in a blog post Hulu’s Eugene Wei quelled concerns over the lack of features declaring,
This doesn’t even include the supplemental content Criterion is famous for and which we’ll bring to the Criterion experience on Hulu Plus over time: commentaries, documentaries, interviews, original trailers, essays, and more. Many of these will be digitized for the first time.
Not only is this a blow to Netflix but also potentially a blow to physical format film viewing as well. While Netflix divides their services between both DVD mailers and streaming services, Hulu is an exclusively streaming site. By signing an exclusive deal with a streaming only company, they are putting all their chips into it as being the future of film exhibition. Along with the inclusion of special features, it marks the start of a much stronger representation of the streaming experience. However, time will tell how the digitization of special features will stack up against a more multifaceted DVD.