What do they have in common White House, Citizen Kane, gone With the Wind, Singing under the rain, Vertigo Y Rashomon, besides being classics indisputable of the history of cinema? The answer is that none of those titles is available on Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, the two major platforms of VOD –video on demand, the legal offer of films and series in streaming-, neither in his Spanish nor in the American service. The Netflix catalog in Spain only includes 18 films before 1960. In the US version, the count goes up to 20. For its part, Amazon proposes 13 films prior to that year to its subscribers in Spain. In the United States there are more than a thousand, but there are also many gaps, as evidenced by the absence of the aforementioned titles. In comparison, in the Spanish Netflix there are almost 600 films produced between 2017 and 2018.
The closing a week ago of FilmStruck, platform full of classics and independent cinema who had arrived in Spain only a few months ago, this catalog becomes even more fragile. The meager supply of iconic titles is usually attributed to the high cost of broadcast rights of classic films produced by the major studios. But, in the case of the giants of video on demand, with huge budgets for the acquisition of content, the explanation is insufficient. "I understand that, with the economic capacity they have, if they do not have more classic cinema, it's because they do not want to," says Jaume Ripoll, co-founder and editorial director of Filmin. "In Spain the situation is different, thanks to alternatives such as Movistar +, Flixolé or Filmin, with a very extensive catalog of classics". If you want to see the films of Fellini, Truffaut or Dreyer you have to resort to them: neither Netflix nor Amazon offer their filmographies. In spite of everything, Ripoll is not afraid that this catalog will disappear someday. "Although there is a risk that hegemonic platforms are even more dominant in the future and that what does not figure in them ceases to exist," he warns. That possibility is no longer a distant hypothesis of the future. Ben Hur it is not available on Netflix, although it is possible to rent it from Apple Store, Google Play and the VOD portal of Atresmedia. But, when a user already pays a flat rate that allows him to see hundreds of movies, are you willing to pay a few euros more for a historical title to which you do not have access?
"The platforms that are governed by algorithms have chosen the pure profitability model. And it is undeniable that the classic cinema it generates less income than other types of films, "says Jean-Baptiste Viaud, general delegate of LaCinetek, a French portal specializing in non-recent titles. This platform was devised in 2015 by three directors, Laurent Cantet, Cédric Klapisch and Pascale Ferran, concerned about the meager offer of classics in VOD. "They wanted them to be available to as many viewers as possible. And, especially, for young people. Until the end of the nineties, cinephilia was acquired by watching films on television, but major channels have already abandoned that work, "says Viaud. LaCinetek wants to resume that mission proposing "an ideal film library" made from lists of the 50 favorite films of great directors of our time, such as Nanni Moretti, Olivier Assayas, James Gray, Todd Haynes, Aki Kaurismäki or Agnès Varda. In February, LaCinetek will launch a German version, in collaboration with the Deutsche Kinemathek, and does not waiver to expand to other European countries. "Each niche platform works alone and on its own. It would be interesting if we grouped together, "suggests Viaud.
Teachers worry about the effects of this shortage of classic movies begins to have in their students. Film historian Jan Olsson, a professor at the University of Stockholm, has been warning about its disastrous consequences for some time. "The calculation of Netflix is that it is difficult to compete with the illegal offer. But, given their position, one may think that they have the responsibility to offer a broader selection than just contemporary titles, "he says. Olsson compares this possible blackout with that of the nitrate copies of the early twentieth century. "They are films that have not disappeared, but are difficult to access because they have ended up in the shadows," he says. Without falling into catastrophism, the difference at the time of accessing some and other titles is abysmal. "If you want to see all of John Ford's movies, you can, but it takes an effort to find them," says Olsson. It's not a tiring task, but it does cost more time and money than meeting a list of titles in one category – "Popular on Netflix", "Trends now" – accessible in just one click.
The sudden goodbye to FilmStruck complicates the trajectory of classic cinema on the Net. The portal, founded in 2016 in the United States, also operated for a few months in the United Kingdom, France and Spain. Last Friday it stopped working in all those countries, in spite of the indignation expressed by names like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Christopher Nolan or Guillermo del Toro, who signed a petition for Warner, owner of the portal together with Turner , reverse. "There is a noticeable absence of classic cinema in the space of the SVOD [el video a la carta con suscripción]. We tried to solve it with FilmStruck, but that business did not fit in with the company's general plans, "admits Turner Classic Movies vice president Charles Tabesh, who until now was responsible for the defunct portal. That hasty closure is explained by the recent purchase of Warner by the telecommunications giant AT & T. The new owner intends to create a new giant of the streaming that is able to compete with Netflix, Amazon and the new platform that Disney last for 2019. From that point of view, keep alive a niche portal that claimed the classics of the seventh art was not part of their plans. "In spite of everything, I trust that someone will come to fill that gap," adds Tabesh. Until that happens, the 7,000 Warner Historical Fund titles are orphaned in the digital world.