It’s a streaming service that functions a little like Netflix. It offers classic movies, recent features and documentaries. And like Netflix, it can be viewed on your television, laptop or phone.
But unlike Netflix, it’s free.
The service is called Kanopy, and chances are it’s available through your local library. All you need is a library card and just about any internet-enabled device, and you can choose from thousands of Hollywood classics, mainstream hits, art-house releases and foreign films. Kanopy won’t divulge viewership numbers -- another similarity to Netflix -- but the service appears to be growing. Kanopy says that within the last two years, roughly 40 branches on Long Island have signed up for its services.
“We basically became aware of it via patron requests,” says Thérèse Purcell Nielsen, head of reference at Huntington Public Library. Her branch added Kanopy roughly 18 months ago, she says, and word-of-mouth seems to be driving increases in rentals every month. “It’s almost been self-promoting,” Nielsen says. “It’s been a really fabulous case of a grass-roots movement.”
The way it works is simple: Go to kanopy.com, click “Watch Now,” enter your library card number and PIN, then browse the collection (or use the search bar) and make your choice. How you view the movie is up to you: Kanopy is available through AppleTV and Roku, or as an app on most devices. Though lending terms vary by library, generally you’ll have a few days to complete watching a movie, and there will be a limit to the number of titles you can view in a given month.
If you’re looking for Hollywood blockbusters, Kanopy probably isn’t for you. As of this writing, searches for most Marvel movies and other big franchises ("Transformers," "Jurassic Park") came up blank. Where Kanopy excels is in the depth of its catalogue, which is selected and periodically updated by a film-curation team. A section labeled “Popular Movies,” for instance, includes last year’s art-house hits “Eighth Grade” and “Hereditary,” the 2016 best picture Oscar-winner “Moonlight” and James Franco’s acclaimed comedy “The Disaster Artist.” Kanopy also recently teamed up with HBO Documentaries, the hot indie studio A24 and the prestigious Criterion Collection to offer content.
“It’s a constant juggling act in a library to provide content people want while balancing fiscal responsibility and shelf space,” Nielsen says. “People come in, they ask for a movie, and if it’s not available through our interloan library then we have to consider purchasing it. And if it’s obscure or less popular, they can be very costly.”
Kanopy, she adds, “solved a lot of our problems.”
Kanopy has its roots in an Australian company, founded in 2008 by Olivia Humphrey, that initially distributed DVDs to colleges and universities. As streaming became popular, the company adapted. It was only two years ago that Kanopy, now based in San Francisco, began extending its service to public libraries with a mission to make what Humphrey calls “thoughtful entertainment” available to a wide audience.
“The public library business is fascinating to us,” Humphrey says. “They want to make sure the resources they’re offering their members are used and embraced. Our mission and content is tightly tied to public libraries’ missions. And we take that very seriously.”