Product Review: SnagFilms
We continue our look at online content providers with SnagFilms, a free streaming service dedicated to documentaries and independent cinema.
There certainly is a glut of online content providers these days. Sure, Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu get the lion’s share, but it’s staggering just how many sites are vying for your eyes. One such contender is SnagFilms. The site boasts over 5,000 movies, mostly documentaries.
SnagFilms is the brainchild of Ted Leonsis, a silicon valley mogul with a passion for documentaries. A previous attempt at a documentary themed content provider Leonsis tried to pitch while at AOL (I hope he got paid in free 500 minute CD-ROMS) gave him the idea for SnagFilms. When SnagFilms acquired indiewire, an online publication dedicated to independent cinema, the current incarnation of the service took form.
SnagFilms has since partnered with YouTube and IMDb to exhibit their selections, and the service is available as an app on Windows, iPhone, Android, Xbox and Sony Playstation. It also is included in many newer TV’s, most notably Sony, Samsung, and Vizio. They’ve also partnered with Verizon, Amazon, and Comcast, so you can pretty much find them anywhere, anytime. They even work on Kindle, and nothing works on Kindle.
Free. Absolutely free. My experience with the service on PS4 and at their website was all sign-up optional. I watched The Kid in its entirety on my PS4, with nary a commercial. I’m assuming their catalog has a lot to do with that: documentaries are usually all paid up before they make the rounds, and indie films are begging for a view and have very little in the way of bargaining power. The classics and foreign films they offer are probably similarly inexpensive.
The Selection/In Action
The service boasts 5,000 films, with documentaries being the biggest portion of said content. They curate their homepage on a fairly regular basis. When I watched the Kid, subversive documentaries like American Grindhouse were the focus. Chaplin’s liberally slanted movie was front and center, I didn’t even have to dive deeper into the app. When I checked the website today, Summer classics and Fourth of July themed documentaries were being promoted. It’s a clean interface to browse through, and the curation is nice for days when you don’t know what you want to watch.
The acquisition of Thundershorts has led to a new section showcasing indie shorts and ongoing series (think Between Two Ferns). Almost every provider is doing this smaller fare these days, and the mix of entertainment and interviews works well with the general theme of the service. I checked out Michael Showalter’s spoof on viral videos called American Viral via SnagFilm’s YouTube site, and it was fast, free and sans commercials. Nice.
The interface for watching the films is equally no fuss. It’s clean, intuitive, and no frills. The website had a small ad banner below the movie I tested, but one click and your view is free and clear. Emphasis on the free. It looks like signing up lets the service cater to your previous watches, but that’s superfluous, and I don’t need yet another web company selling my habits to the highest bidder.
You can’t beat free with a hammer. It’s very niche fare, much like our last provider Dust. The trade-off of no fees, no commitments, and a very user friendly interface make the service an above average contender. If documentaries and indie films are your thing, you’re in spades. It’s probably going to replace VUDU for my go to service to scrounge around for retro content, but I can’t see this service tackling any of the bigger guys. It’s ubiquity is nice, so popping on every once in awhile certainly won’t be a hassle.