Since the beginning of 2013, four major library vendors have announced the launch of new or expanded streaming services that will enable patrons to view movies and television shows at their library or at home using computers, tablets, smart TVs, or any device equipped with a web browser.
Most recently, Library Ideas debuted its new Freegal Movies and Television service at the 2013 American Library Association (ALA) Annual conference in Chicago. Formal announcements regarding whose content Freegal will stream are still pending, but three major studios are involved. The service will go live this month with access to 1,100 feature films and 2,500 television episodes, according to Library Ideas co-founder Brian Downing.
The new Freegal Movies and Television service is available separately from Freegal’s music service and Freading ebooks on a flat-fee subscription basis. Each valid library card from a subscribing institution will allow a patron to stream three movies per week, with each movie or television show available for unlimited viewing 48 hours after checkout. In addition, the company announced at ALA that its Freegal music service will now also offer downloadable music videos and streaming albums. These features will be included to subscribing libraries as part of the upgrade to Freegal 4.0, which is scheduled to go live on July 31 [CORRECTION: an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that all features of Freegal 4.0 will be available at no additional cost. New content, including 5 million new songs, site upgrades and downloadable music videos will be available at no additional cost. The streaming music feature will be available for a separate flat-rate fee].
Although patrons will not retain copies of streamed content, each patron will be able to stream almost all music content currently available on Freegal for three hours per day. Streaming, Downing said, “really takes away a lot of the limits on the end user.”
Library Ideas follows Midwest Tape, OverDrive, and Recorded Books into the streaming movies market. Midwest Tape first announced its hoopla platform—which offers streaming movies, television shows, music, and audiobooks—during the Public Library Association conference in March 2012, and earlier this week announced the conclusion of a successful beta test with seven library systems, as well as some 20 new participating libraries
The Columbus Metropolitan Library (CML) was the first to go live with the beta version this spring, and in a conversation with LJ, Robin Nesbitt, director of technical services for CML, praised the pay-per-circ streaming service’s ease of use, comparing it to consumer platforms such as iBooks, Netflix, and audible.com.
“It really mimics that consumer experience,” she said. “I see something, boom, I get it.”
With hoopla’s pay-per-circ model, there are no platform or subscription fees. Instead, libraries pay between $0.99 and $2.99 per circ, depending on the movie, show, album, or audiobook. More than 90 percent of audiobook and video titles are $1.99 or less, and almost 100 percent of the albums are $1.49 or less, according to Midwest Tape. Monthly or weekly caps can be set for downloads.
In January, OverDrive announced that streaming video capabilities would be incorporated into its next generation library services platform, enhancing the discovery and access to a library’s existing and newly purchased digital video content, where allowed by the publisher. At ALA, the company said it was close to announcing partnerships with several U.S. movie studios. Distributor Criterion Pictures USA, was also announced as a new partner, giving libraries access to a significant collection of titles that could then be licensed for patrons to stream on any device with a browser.
As with other features on OverDrive’s next generation platform, the company has made an effort to simplify checkout procedures to one-click access.
“With our browser-based ebook reading technology OverDrive Read, users simply ‘See Book—Read Book.’ Now, streaming technology will similarly empower library users to ‘See Video—Watch Video’ or ‘See Audiobook—Listen to Audiobook,” Karen Estrovich, OverDrive’s collection development manager, explained in an announcement about the new features.
Recorded Books has taken a different approach to streaming content. Rather than develop or enhance their own content platform, the company began testing a partnership with online movie service IndieFlix in November 2012. For an annual subscription fee, libraries can give their patrons unlimited simultaneous access to the IndieFlix service, which hosts thousands of independent films screened at more than 2,000 film festivals worldwide, including Cannes, Sundance, Berlin, and SXSW. And unlike hoopla, Freegal Movies and Television, or OverDrive’s next generation platform, these independent films can be streamed via Roku devices, Xbox Live, and PS3 game consoles, as well as computers, tablets, mobile devices, and Smart TVs.
“What’s lacking in independent films is distribution,” Jim Schmidt, vice president of business development for Recorded Books Digital, told LJ during a demo of the service at ALA’s Midwinter Conference in January. IndieFlix was enthusiastic about the partnership because it helps expand the potential audience for independent filmmakers, he explained.
Some libraries have begun to express concern about how the growing popularity of streaming video services might impact the circulation of their DVD collections. Ray Lyons and Keith Curry Lance noted in 2011 that “virtual transactions to acquire streaming media are now included in IMLS circulation data—at least for libraries that are up to speed on the ability to count them,” but some communities do not allow views of subscription-based digital content to be included in total circ figures. Other libraries have been so eager to follow the consumer trend toward streaming rather than physical materials that they even circulated streaming devices despite possible concerns that they might be violating the terms of service. Now, thanks to a variety of library vendors, they won’t have to.