British Film Institute VOD Service to Include Day-and-Date Releases

The BFI Player will go live on Oct. 9 and offer archived films and day-and-date titles, such as Clio Barnard's "The Selfish Giant."

LONDON – British Film Institute chairman Greg Dyke on Wednesday likened the organization's planned rollout of the BFI Player, a video-on-demand Internet service for movies, as a "defining moment" for the U.K. film industry.

When the platform goes live on Oct. 9, it will offer seven curated HD channels comprising contemporary and archived films, behind-the-scenes festival footage and the full 28 hours of footage from British film pioneers Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon. There will also be day-and-date movies available for purchase.

In a deal struck with U.K. distributor Curzon Artificial Eye, Clio Barnard's The Selfish Giant will be one of the first day-and-date movies on Oct. 25 with a price tag that is likely to be $16 (£10). It will become available at the same time as the film's British premiere at this year's BFI London Film Festival.

Dyke, who, while BBC director general, was involved in discussions about the broadcaster's iPlayer VOD platform, said the launch of the BFI Player could do for film what the iPlayer did for television by altering the way viewers consume programming forever. 

Dyke told The Hollywood Reporter that "making money was not the driving force" for the BFI Player.

British filmmaker Jonathan Glazer cut a trailer for the Edwardian Britain section of the films that Mitchell and Kenyon made between 1900 and 1913, complete with The Pogues' "Dirty Old Town" as its soundtrack.

Also coming online will be the vaunted BFI restoration of 1924 film The Epic of Everest that will be available for purchase on the same day as its BFI London Film Festival gala screening on Oct. 18, a show that is sold out already.

The platform promises approximately 60 percent free content drawn from the BFI's vast archive and library with the remaining 40 percent from pay-per-view content, including hundreds of features in the launch period with prices ranging from $4 (£2.50) to $16 for new releases.

Dyke said the key to the VOD service's success in an increasingly crowded marketplace will be how well it's marketed to would-be subscribers.

The BFI Player provides a fresh distribution opportunity for U.K. and art house titles and aims to make classics accessible to the widest possible audience across the U.K.

Dyke said the BFI Player "will unlock the past, present and future of British film and, most importantly, offers a new deal for U.K. audiences by ensuring that as many people as possible across the U.K. get access to great films."

The BFI has secured $811,000 (£500,000) from the British government's department of culture, media and sport for 2014-15 to invest in the service in addition to the "low six-figure sum" that the BFI has invested itself in the VOD system.

"The BFI is pivotal to identifying great films and nurturing and giving a voice to great filmmakers in the U.K. and now offers a platform to take these stories out to whole new audiences," Dyke said.

The aim would be to roll out an international version of the U.K. platform in the coming years, but with budget cuts to the BFI, that's unlikely to happen quickly.

The BFI Player also promises to offer "deep exploration and understanding of film content, chosen and contextualized by the experts at the BFI."

The BFI Player team is currently in talks with partners across the industry and broadcasters, such as BBC Worldwide and ITV, to grow the content available.

BFI director of digital Edward Humphrey played down any concerns that the BFI Player might cannibalize the Institute's DVD buying customers. He said consumer behavior when it comes to buying DVD titles is a different beast than that of those using VOD platforms.

"Audience behavior has shifted to embrace digital platforms. Now, the BFI Player gives us a foundation from which we can support a digital future for film lovers and bring the story of film to a truly national audience," Humphrey said.

The BFI Player's seven different collections at launch include The BFI London Film Festival Presents section, with footage from the red carpet and previous festival award winners, and Backed by the BFI, a collection of contemporary British films, each of which garnered support from the BFI’s Film Fund.