FilmStruck offers great films and poor tech

As soon as I heard about FilmStruck–the new movie-streaming collaboration from Turner Classic Movies and the Criterion Collection–I eagerly waited for it to open its virtual doors. When it went online November 1, I signed up right away. But as my two-week free trial came to an end, technical and web design issues forced me to cancel my subscription. And even that cancellation was needlessly difficult due to bad website design.

And that’s a real shame, because FilmStruck offers the best selection of movies that a cinephile could hope for. An account gives you access to 25 of Akira Kurosawa’s 30 films, plus large selections of Chaplin, Almodóvar, Godard, and others. Available movies include A Room with a View, Tom Jones, Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!, Kid Brother, The Magic Flute, and The Exterminating Angel–and that’s just in the comedy section. Every genre you pick will be filled with beloved classics and little-known gems.

Kid Brother

And since Criterion is involved, you get extras, as well. Check out this regularly-updated list of available commentary tracks.

The Viewing Experience

But these great movies and informative extras lose a lot if you can’t send them to your television. Yes, I know that some people like watching films on a laptop or even (gag!) a smartphone, but I’m not one of them. If I can’t conveniently stream a movie to my HDTV, I don’t want to pay for the streaming service.

If you have an Amazon FireTV or an Apple TV (I don’t), you should have no trouble watching FilmStruck movies on your television. But if you stream through Roku or Chromecast (I have both), you’re out of luck. FilmStruck promises to add support for these platforms early next year. You can download iOS and Android FilmStruck apps now, but they currently lack the Chromecast support that’s built into most video-playing apps on these platforms.

Chromecast icon on Fandor Android app

You can probably connect your laptop to your TV, and I’ve been doing it a lot these past couple of weeks. But it’s a hassle to set up, and if your laptop lacks an HDMI port, you’ll have to buy some sort of adapter. You can use a wireless mouse as a remote control, but even pausing a movie that way can be awkward.

What’s more, every FilmStruck feature I watched on my laptop (with or without the TV) had buffering problems. Every so often, the image would freeze and a spinning graphic told me to wait. Once I waited several minutes and had to refresh the webpage. I rarely experience buffering issues with other streaming services.

The Website Experience

The FilmStruck website places curated selections front and center. As I write these, the FilmStruck tab offers World Discoveries, Native People, Native Lands, Directed by Pedro Almodóvar, and others. On The Criterion Channel tab, there’s The Mustache Club, Adventures in Moving Going, and a double feature of The Lady Vanishes and The Vanishing. You can also browse by Genre, Recently Added, Popular Titles, and so on. And, of course, you can search for a title or a filmmaker.

FilmStruck website

But the search tool had problems. I searched for Akira Kurosawa, and found 25 of his films plus the documentary A.K. But I also found several Japanese films that had nothing to do with the master filmmaker. What these films did have was a director or cast member named Akira something or something Kurosawa. It’s a good thing I didn’t search for John Ford. Putting “Akira Kurosawa” in quotes resulted in no finds at all.

The site doesn’t always handle shorts well. Rather than offering Chaplin’s 12 Mutual comedies separately, they’re collected into three “features” called Chaplin’s Mutual Comedies, Part 1, 2, and 3.

Another organizing problem: Whoever wrote the alphabetizing algorithm didn’t understand how to treat the word The at the beginning of a title. The 400 Blows, The Bad Sleep Well, and The Last Laugh all come up in the Ts.

I could excuse bad organization if I could easily get the stream to my TV. Since I can’t, I chose to cancel my membership before the two-week free trial ended. And that’s when I discovered just how truly bad the FilmStruck website can be.

I could find no workable way to cancel my subscription. I found links that promised to help me do just that, but when I clicked on such a link, it brought me to a page with another promising link. And then another, and another, until I was back where I started. I used their tech support chat feature, and the support person gave me instructions with included clicking a link that wasn’t there. She gave up and promised that “I will put in a ticket for you to cancel your account. We will be in touch with you via email when it is resolved.”

I never received the email, but my account has been cancelled.

Which means I can’t stream anything of Criterion’s. The company stopped licensing their films to Hulu and Fandor when FilmStruck opened.

The people running FilmStruck clearly love cinema and want to bring us great films. But when it comes to sending those films down to the user, or creating a proper website, they have a lot to learn.

Update, 2/2017: I’ve posted a second article of Filmstruck, discussing improvements as well as additional shortcomings.

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11 thoughts on “FilmStruck offers great films and poor tech

  1. Thanks for those details. I have had similar issues. I’m totally Filmstruck’s target audience and would like to sign up, but there is no way i’m watching movies on a tablet or phone. I asked their tech support if i could mirror it from my phone app to my (3 year old) appleTV (like I can do now with YouTube videos, Mubi, etc) since their site only mentions the new version 4 of Apple TV. Their response was “You’re welcome to try that and see if it works”.

    ??!!!!

    um.. i think that’s their job to *know* if it will work so I don’t waste a membership trial.

    I’ll keep waiting for now. thanks again!

  2. AppleTV 4 support is next month and Chromecast and Ruko likely another one or two months out. They’ll get there. Have improved a great deal since the beta. Much like some music streaming services, it seems those who are passionate for the content and those who seem to understand the tech (including UI, search, etc.) sadly don’t always work for the same company. After many Criterion titles on Netflix, then jumping catalog to Hulu, and now from Hulu to Filmstruck, let’s hope the service gets the bugs worked out and stays there instead of moving again. ;)

  3. Filmstruck doesn’t even support HDMI connection yet. If you try to connect your laptop to your TV, it will not display in full screen. Had to cancel for now, even though I’m their target audience as well.

    1. That’s strange. I didn’t have a problem–other than the hassle of connecting my laptop to my TV.

      FWIW, I’ve got a Lenovo Yoga without an HDMI port, but with USB-C. I had to buy an adapter (I needed it for other purposes, as well). As soon as I plugged it in, the image on the laptop screen appeared–in a higher resolution–on the TV.

  4. How about this one, I watched a film last night, fell asleep, went to finish it tonight and got a no access DRM message, “Time interval for playback expired”.. I did the chat feature and the serv rep was less than helpful. No idea what to do. I’m like, “I’m 55, I fell ASLEEP last night and I want to finish it!” No dice. There’s some sort of DRM block connected to a 24 hr clock or to playback options. “I can have a tech person call you in the next couple days when it’s convenient”… lol.

  5. there’s some weird DRM block… you can’t watch a film a second time!!! I went back to check a film I’d seen all the way through and sure enough, a DRM restriction won’t let it play!

  6. On the plus side, Apple TV support was just added and I like its interface best. Will likely be using the most. One wish though is a combined Criterion/Filmstruck browse. Why should I wish to search both sections simultaneously, but not browse?

  7. I have to believe these issues will be sorted out.
    I signed up as soon as I saw an alert in my inbox, and subscribed immediately to the annual program .
    My streaming experience does, however, include severe buffering stalls, and now the DRM quandary.
    As iffy as the previous service was in general streaming performance, actual streaming of Criterion content was Not one of their problems.
    I can hardly conceive of not having access to the Criterion film Library.
    So I keep my hopes up.
    Thank you very much.
    :)

  8. FilmStruck’s tech support team offered this solution to the DRM – “Time interval for playback expired” problem… and it cleared things right up for me:

    ———
    If you are using Mac and/or Chrome go to this link:

    http://www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager08.html

    Under “Protected Content Playback Settings panel” click the “Reset License Files” button and then click Confirm

    Refresh Filmstruck page

    ———
    If you’re using Windows and Firefox:

    1. Click the start button and search for Control Panel, then go to System and Security

    2. Click on the icon for “Flash Player (32-bit)”

    3. In the Flash Player Settings Manager window, click the Advanced tab then…

    4. Click the “Delete All…” button under Browsing Data and Settings

    5. In the window that pops up, make sure both checkboxes are checked then confirm by clicking the “Delete Data” button

    6. Refresh the FilmStruck page
    ———

    We are currently optimizing the Filmstruck player to resolve the bug permanently. Thank you for your patience and we apologize for any inconvenience that may have caused.

  9. 1. Thank you for the support on the DRM quirk.
    I probably would never had made the association in flash settings.
    Cheers to Justin.
    2. I have not had time to check on the status of buffering problems, but am hopeful, and perhaps this may end up bing a Flash settings issue, who knows///
    3. Another odd issue has been happening lately… even though browsers are compatible I often observe this symptom … I think when I have returned to filmstruck after having navigated away
    I get this alert
    https://watch.filmstruck.com/#!/error/oldBrowser

    Onward and Upward
    Thanks

  10. Update on experience, resetting license (via navigating through what is basically the Flash “Global Settings” is not exactly Global, you may need to repeat the procedure on each device.
    Also, I am still trying to watch a film but have serious buffering issues. Film buffers for about 10 seconds every 20 seconds of stream. … Not quite what I had envisioned

    very sad right not
    ;(

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