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Online Services Cater to Arthouse Fans

8 Jul, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Most of the attention for online rental goes to publicly traded companies like Netflix, Blockbuster Video and Walmart.com, but a handful of online rental services thrive with smaller subscription lists and titles that cater to fans of foreign and arthouse films.

Smaller services like Greencine, Facets Multimedia's Videotheque and CafeDVD court film buffs who quest for the obscure, the classic and the international.

Facets has transitioned its longstanding rental-by-mail service online. The service grew out of the supplier's direct marketing business, so Facets, which also has a store and a theater in Chicago, was renting by mail long before DVD.

“Our video rental started as something we did in the lobby of our movie theater,” said Steve Bliss, director of sales. The by-mail rental service started when the company became a supplier and started marketing with catalogs.Facets may be the only online rental service that rents VHS by mail, mainly because some of the titles in the Facets library have yet to be released on DVD.

The company has just launched a subscription program that has benefits in addition to the three-out rental program for $24 a month (plus the renter pays shipping on VHS, since tapes cost more to ship).

“The Facets Freedom Value Pass is $24 a month for membership for a three-out program, unlimited rentals, passes to screenings and festivals, discounts on all merchandise and discounts on Facets film classes. You get all of our schedules and New On DVD, and we send all of the specialty catalogs that come out,” said Ed Husayko, Facets director of marketing.

Facets and other services that cater to the arthouse set offer online rentals as a means to keep classic, independent and alternative film alive and healthy.“What we are providing is more of an archive, a museum for film,” Husayko said. “The people that rent from us are not looking for the most popular title that they can pick up at Costco for $14.99.”

Folks who rent from Greencine get foreign and arthouse movies with a little something extra: social activism.

The site, started in June 2002, donates money from online rentals (plans range from two out for $14.99 a month to 10 out for $49.99) to such organizations as the San Francisco Film Arts Foundation, the Academic Film Archive of North America, Consolidated Works and the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

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