Eye candy galore, but also a brand new vision for MUBI, a seven year old website/community/content provider for cinephiles. As Efe Carafel, the Turkish-born, Stanford-graduate founder recently wrote, the goal was to create "one MUBI for everyone," where MUBI is described as "an online cinema". I love the sound of this oxymoron.
MUBI is a smarter, but not necessarily elitist, Netflix, which greatly benefits from user-generated content and also offers stellar criticism and reportage: Daniel Kasman's Notebook is splendid. En passant, it is worth nothing that there is nothing comparable to MUBI for videogames, although Steam does come close in some ways.
The new MUBI is clearly a work-in-progress considering that the best features have been temporarily (I hope) suspended or removed. I am specifically referring to user discussions, comments, and lists (here's an example). Moreover, I am not a fan of tumblr's annotation/comment system - with its demented "likes" and "reblogging" options, the degree zero of communication - but then again, I'm on old fart.
On a different note, the lack of a MUBI app for consoles (Xbox One and PS4) and media streamers (Roku, Apple TV) in the US is puzzling. MUBI was launched in 2010 for the PlayStation 3, but only in Europe and with uneven results. A MUBI app for iPad was introduced in 2013. Still, a dedicated Apple TV channel is currently missing.
I see MUBI evolving into a festival platform, that is, an online video-on-demand channel showing films presented at international film events. In recent years, iTunes has become an effective distribution channel for independent movies, often partnering with important institutions like Sundance or Tribeca for previews and even screenings. MUBI should go a step further, becoming a world window for Rotterdam, Venice, Toronto, Berlin etc. MUBI could expand and integrate the notoriously flimsy official festival websites, offering selected premieres on demand. In other words, MUBI could democratize the traditionally elitist film festival circuits, providing access to the very best of world cinema to a broader, global audience. If that vision becomes true, MUBI will indeed evolve into an "online cinema".
For the record, I completely agree with Film Comment's editor Gavin Smith, who recently argued that:
There's little doubt that cinema is heading toward a definite schism. Theatrical will in all probability become the exclusive domain of ever more expensive roadshow spectacles dependent on immersive 3-D IMAX. Everything else will be either projected on gallery walls or delivered to your home through VOD, where you'll watch films when and as you please. Film festivals, which already constitute a de facto distribution circuit for art cinema, will continue to thrive. (Gavin Smith, Film Comment, February 2014, p. 4)
Currenty MUBI is in a weird spot. With its relatively small user-base - 6 million registered users - and limited funding it cannot compete with streaming giant Netflix or with cable channels like IFC or the Sundance Channel, both focusing on independent cinema. MUBI also competes with the likes of San Francisco-based Fandor, which has a presence on Roku and a growing selection of smart critical content (consider this recent piece by Steven Jenkins on Matteo Garrone's Reality).
Incidentally, MUBI is also the only social network that I actually like (I despise both Facebook and Google+). I joined when it was still called The Auteurs. The name change took place in 2010, an eternity in internet-time.
By the way, you can find me here: let's talk movies.