Popcorn Picks: Streaming services thrive despite COVID-19 pandemic


Photo credit: Richard Andrus

Richard Andrus and Michael Kelley

Since the federal government has strongly urged the residents of over 40 states to stay home, people have a lot of newfound time to kill and media organizations have solutions ready, even while struggling with the pandemic themselves.

Digital Cinema Alternatives

Disney released “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” and the animated blockbuster “Frozen 2” on Disney+ four days and three months earlier than scheduled respectively.

The corporation, whose CEO and board of directors will be taking pay cuts during the outbreak, also made “Onward,” Pixar’s latest which appeared in theaters last month, available on the service April 4.

“Artemis Fowl,” the live-action adaptation of book series of the same name, was also announced to be skipping its theatrical run in favor of premiering on Disney+ with a date TBA.

Paramount, Universal and Warner Brothers among other studios have followed in the footsteps of the Disney by releasing “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Emma,” “The Hunt,” “The Invisible Man,” “Birds of Prey” and “The Way Back” online in the face of the virus.

Theater chain Alamo Drafthouse has also moved digitally with its latest effort, “Alamo-At-Home.” On top of streaming films from distributors such as Kino Lorber, Film Movement and Magnolia Pictures, the virtual cinema will also be streaming cult films as part of their renowned series, “Terror Tuesday and Weird Wednesday.”

Kino Lorber has launched an initiative of its own as well titled “Kino Marquee,” which allows arthouse theaters to stream select films to viewers on their website and receive roughly half of the total proceeds. At least 150 American theaters are using Marquee at the time of this writing.

Free Streaming Offers

With the rise of the pandemic, the new norm of social distancing has made it impossible to watch content with your loved ones, at least in a physical setting.

As for a virtual setting, browser extensions such as Netflix Party, Metastream and others have made it possible to view anything off of your preferred streaming service with people around the world.

The promotion of these extensions has grown as services like Netflix, Hulu and Showtime are currently offering 30-day free trials, allowing for viewers to binge-watch all they please for no charge. CBS All Access, which exclusively streams “Star Trek: Picard,” has also aided viewers by giving out 60-day free trials to test out their service.

The WWE has also made its paid subscription service WWE Network free for a limited time, allowing wrestling fans watch hundreds of hours of additional content.

All of these trials may not include high definition streaming depending on your location. Several services including Netflix and Disney+ have limited the streaming quality of their content for the next month in Europe, citing dramatic surges in online traffic for the action.

YouTube has gone one step further and limited the streaming quality on its platform around the world due to the pandemic.

Even so, there is high-quality content available to view on the video-sharing platform, including fifteen episodes of the 1980’s cartoon series “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero” and a channel devoted to the late comic Robin Williams.

Free Non-Streaming Alternatives

Outside of the streaming hemisphere, there are several other options to watch first-rate content.

For example, HBO made over 500 hours of its programming, including nine original series, ten documentaries and 20 films from Warner Brothers, available to stream for free without a subscription on April 3. According to a press release, the network did this “to provide some entertainment relief for those doing their part to keep everyone safe and healthy in this time of social isolation.”

Amazon Prime will be holding a virtual film festival over ten days consisting of titles initially booked to premiere at the canceled 2020 edition of South By Southwest (SXSW) last month. All of the films on the lineup will be available to view by anyone, as long as they have an Amazon account, in late-April with finalized dates TBA.

Adult Swim has the original series and the 2017 revival of Samurai Jack streaming for free on its website.

After being postponed last month, the Tribeca Film Festival has been rescheduled for April 17, two days after its originally scheduled start date and will occur online. The festival will also have the capability to view 15 films in virtual reality on Oculus devices such as the “Go” or “Quest.”

Since being postponed, the festival has been sharing a short film a day from festival alumni, including some online premieres.

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