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Forget Netflix, Amazon and Hulu — your library is the new place to stream movies

  • Libraries across the U.S. are offering streaming movies to patrons via an agreement with Kanopy, a streaming service.
  • Kanopy sees itself as an alternative, not a competitor, to Netflix by offering "quality, literate" content.
  • Kanopy films are available to NYPL patrons and patrons of other libraries across many states.
The New York Public Library has teamed up with online video-streaming service Kanopy to offer patrons its collection of arthouse, independent and classical films on demand.
Siqui Sanchez | Getty Images
The New York Public Library has teamed up with online video-streaming service Kanopy to offer patrons its collection of arthouse, independent and classical films on demand.

If Netflix and Hulu are boring you with crass, lowbrow content, if you gravitate to arthouse and indie movies, if you're less into Song of Ice and Fire and more into India Song, it might be worth checking out your local library. But no need to get up from the couch and potentially spill your can of Pabst over your perfectly manicured beard — you can now stream these movies directly to your device.

Public libraries might be fighting with Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu for your eyeballs in the online content wars.

Last Friday the New York Public Library let patrons stream videos and movies for the first time. The service, which is run by online video-streaming service Kanopy, includes a collection of arthouse, independent and classical films on demand. Users can browse content on the Kanopy website after logging into the NYPL online. "This content offering is so unique and worth presenting and logical to us that it makes absolute sense to do so," said Christopher Platt, chief branch library officer of the NYPL.

Platt says offering movies for streaming is part of the library's perpetual goal to offer formats patrons need.

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It's also hard to argue with a service that's free. Derek O'Donnell, senior analyst at Gartner, said the library's service might hit smaller players in the streaming space, like Amazon Prime, which has a thinner selection of streaming movies compared to larger competitors, like Hulu and Netflix. The library's offering may also find a niche with audiences seeking content inaccessible anywhere else, O'Donnell said.

The launch also reflects changing trends: mobile, connected and oftentimes younger users. A Fall 2016 Pew Research Center survey found 53 percent of millennials used a public library or bookmobile in the last 12 months, compared to 45 percent of Gen Xers and only 43 percent of baby boomers.

San Francisco-based Kanopy sees itself as an alternative — and not a competitor — to more mainstream services, like Netflix. "Many users come to watch films that aren't available on other platforms," said Kanopy CEO Olivia Humphrey. The emphasis, she says, is on "thoughtful entertainment" and focuses on independent films that touch on topics like immigration, diversity and LGBT rights. "It's really a different reason for coming to watch Kanopy," said Humphrey.

Kanopy — founded in 2008 in Western Australia — previously partnered with universities such as Yale and the University of Cambridge to make Kanopy's collection of films available to students for study. The company most recently launched their service to patrons of the Los Angeles Public Library and other regional libraries, in Illinois, Connecticut, California and other states, before the NYPL rollout. The company has partnered with local libraries across the country in the past and says other, smaller libraries are to be added soon.

The NYPL, which serves more than 17 million patrons across Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, launched the service with Kanopy collection last Friday to offer "quality, literate" movies to its patrons. The service is available now to all NYPL patrons with a valid library card.

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