Turner Appeals to Film Nerds With Ad-Free Streaming Service

Commercial-Free Experiences Slowly Pile Up

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A still from a promotional video for FilmStruck, Turner's forthcoming streaming service for movie buffs.
A still from a promotional video for FilmStruck, Turner's forthcoming streaming service for movie buffs. Credit: Turner

Time Warner's Turner division will introduce its first online-only channel, allowing film buffs to watch classic movies without a traditional TV subscription.

The service, called FilmStruck, will be developed and managed by Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection, which owns more than 1,000 arthouse films, according to a company statement Tuesday. Criterion's movies, available now on Hulu Plus, will be exclusive to FilmStruck when Turner's streaming service begins this fall.

FilmStruck will feature a library of arthouse, indie, foreign and cult films, including Akira Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai," Robert Altman's "The Player" and the Beatles film "A Hard Days Night."

The price of the service, which will be commercial-free, is still being determined, a Turner spokeswoman said.

The move marks the latest attempt by Time Warner to appeal to the growing number of people who don't subscribe to cable. In the past year, the company has introduced an online-only version of HBO and bought two tech businesses -- iStreamPlanet and DramaFever -- that specialize in managing online video services. The company also made large digital investments in CNN, the sports website Bleacher Report and the website Mashable, and began offering its channels in so-called skinny bundles like Dish Network Corp.'s Sling TV.

With more viewers watching movies and shows online, programmers are developing new outlets to reach them while being careful not to jeopardize the traditional cable business that generates most of their profit.

Coleman Breland, president of TCM and Turner content distribution, said FilmStruck will serve an audience of 22-to-44-year-olds who overlap little with those watching the Turner Classic Movies channel. He estimates 10 million to 15 million consumers are interested in paying to watch independent and foreign films.

"We think there are multiple millions of people who really have an affinity for this," Mr. Breland said. Many of the films are "too edgy" to be on Turner Classic Movies, he added.

Turner chose to introduce the channel as a web-only service because the rising price of programming is causing cable bills to swell and more consumers to cancel.

"It would be almost irresponsible to put more pressure on that model" by introducing another cable TV channel, Mr. Breland said.

The service will refresh its offering of 500 movies each month. It will sell a separate tier that will cost extra and grant subscribers access to the entire collection of Criterion films.

FilmStruck is the first of two subscription video services that Turner plans to introduce this year, Mr. Breland said. The other also will be "targeted in what it's trying to do," he said.

Turner is joining a crowded market for online subscription-video services, some of which target specific audiences. In January, Comcast Corp.'s NBC Universal introduced its first web-only service, a comedy offering featuring stars such as Amy Poehler and the British comedy troupe Monty Python. Last year, Viacom unveiled a paid online video service for kids called Noggin. CBS Corp. and its premium channel Showtime also have online-only offerings. And this month Starz introduced a $9-a-month streaming service.

-- Bloomberg News

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