A Long Time Coming

Feb 15, 2011

It’s not often that you get to say you are going to meet millions of new people on a single day while making a wish come true for many of your oldest friends, but that is exactly what is happening to the Criterion Collection today, as we go live with a major exclusive new offering on Hulu.

When I first started working at the Criterion Collection about seventeen years ago, I remember coming across a file box full of typed and handwritten letters that viewers had sent to Jon Mulvaney, our longtime customer liaison. At that time, the company was sometimes referred to as the “Rolls-Royce of laserdiscs”—an honor, to be sure, but one that was meaningful to a vanishingly small sliver of the American public. Many of our editions sold hundreds, not even thousands, of copies, at prices as high as $125 for a single film, but we had a very dedicated audience of movie lovers who had come to value Criterion for our commitment to quality, and for the array of special features we had pioneered starting in 1984, when we published the first ever commentary tracks and special features to appear alongside motion pictures.

It is tempting to say that a lot has changed since then, but the truth is, even more has remained constant. We don’t make laserdiscs anymore, but we are still dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and using the latest technology to present them in editions that will deepen viewers’ appreciation and understanding of the art of cinema. Customers still write to Jon Mulvaney all the time, but now instead of pens and typewriters, they send him e-mail or post to our Facebook page or Twitter.

When I think back to all the letters I read that day, I realize that even the subjects of those letters haven’t changed much at all. Most were and are passionate pleas for us to release a favorite film or seek out a particular director’s work, but then, as now, one of the most common requests was for some kind of subscription program that would give customers access to everything we put out.

Starting today, there are more than 150 of our most important films online on the Hulu Plus subscription service. Over the coming months, that number will swell to more than 800 films. For the true cinephile, this should be a dream come true. On Hulu Plus, you’ll find everything in our library, from Academy Award winners to many of the most famous films by art-house superstars like Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and Federico Fellini to films so rare that they have never been seen in the U.S. in any medium. Some of these lost gems have been so hard to see that even most of the Criterion staff will see them for the first time only when they go live on Hulu Plus! Each month, we’ll be highlighting a mix of programs, centered on themes, directors, actors, and other creative artists, as well as celebrity picks, and mixing them with deep cuts from the catalog that will be unknown to all but the most prominent cinephiles in the world.

Criterion has always been a company driven by its mission, not by any particular medium, and while we still see our core business as producing the world’s best DVD and Blu-ray versions of the world’s best films, this new venture with Hulu represents a huge expansion of our reach. Not only will Hulu users have access to the largest digital archive of Criterion movies for the first time, Hulu Plus subscribers will now be able to stream our films (and yes, before long, many of our supplements too!) on a wide array of devices, including iPhones, iPads, PlayStations, and Internet-connected television sets.

And finally, why Hulu? In short, because they get it. As their regular viewers know, the Hulu user experience is exactly what it should be: simple, elegant, and focused on the content. Hulu has built their brand on letting the shows and movies take center stage. Nobody does it better, and we’re honored that they see Criterion as a good match for their audience. We’re going to do all we can to make the experience of Criterion on Hulu Plus an exciting adventure for all of us, so please check it out and let us know what you think. (For more details on how it will work, here’s a blog post by Hulu’s Eugene Wei.)