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Swimming Upstream: The Streaming Media Ecosystem

January 24, 2019

animal-aquatic-corals-847393Photo by Belle Co. from Pexel 

Streaming media is nothing new; however, it continues to present new challenges for libraries. For academic libraries, where faculty and students prefer the ease of access streaming media provides to the constraints of placing and watching DVDs on reserve or the necessity of using one or more class sessions to view a film as a group, having at least one (and usually more than one) streaming option becomes a necessity. Streaming films can be watched 24/7 on many devices anywhere that has an internet connection.

That ease of use comes at a cost. And that cost is not always known. With subscription models like Academic Video Online (AVON), users have unlimited viewing ability with a known, yearly cost. With PDA programs, like the one Kanopy provides, licenses are triggered after set criteria are met, and the cost of triggers may add up more quickly than one expects and may easily blow a hole in the budget if not monitored conscientiously. In these PDA programs, there may be options to mediate access, which requires users to request films. But once a campus community gets used to instant viewing on demand, it may be difficult to change course midstream.

There is the added complication of home use only platforms like Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime, with an individual subscription model where contract law (consumers agree to terms that permit only at-home viewing) overrides any exemption provided by the Face-to-Face Teaching Exception under the Fair Use Guidelines provided by statutory law (Netflix terms of use here). These platforms do not make any provisions for educational use, with the exception of a very short list of Netflix documentaries (see the fourth bullet below). Some of these films are exclusive to the platform and not even available in DVD format.

Another layer of complexity involves PPR–Public Performance Rights. Most films on streaming platforms commonly used in higher education come with PPR; however, we have run up against at least one exception to that rule. Also, there are always films that are not available in streaming format that are requested for campus film festivals. So in addition to paying for streaming platforms, libraries may end up paying for expensive, institutional copies of DVDs.

Speaking of DVDs, some argue that a physical format is still desirable from both a budgetary and a preservation perspective. Streaming films can be removed from platforms, sometimes without notice, and faculty can find themselves without access to a film they have relied upon as part of their syllabi in the past. Ownership opportunities for streaming films can be limited.

Last, there are films that are available to stream but only if an institution has its own platform for hosting. Vendors like Kanopy and AVON do permit hosting of local media; however, there are several requirements that have to be met. And there are always films that are just not available in streaming format, period. Faculty may ask that a DVD be digitized; however, copyright laws come into play and are usually prohibitive for whole DVDs (clips may be okay). Finally, there are films that are still only available on VHS (see the second bullet point below), although these are generally permitted to be digitized since the format is considered to be obsolete.

The ecosystem is multilayered and can be difficult to navigate. Fortunately, there are some resources that can help.

  • Videolib mailing list. This list is a great resource for tracking down PPR, streaming formats, rights holders and engaging with others in discussions about many of the issues outlined above.
  • Academic Libraries Video Trust (ALVT). (From the website): The National Media Market (“NMM”) has launched the Academic Libraries Video Trust (“ALVT”), a service facilitating the preservation of audiovisual (“AV”) works in the collections of member libraries. The principal activity of ALVT is to provide a clearinghouse or repository of digital versions of selected AV works, generally works currently available only in the obsolete VHS format. The service is built on opportunities allowed to libraries and archives for the preservation and replacement of works in their collections, pursuant to Section 108 of the U.S. Copyright Act. NMM offers this service in order to encourage the preservation and appreciation of the educational films, motion pictures, documentaries, and other works that are increasingly out of reach because of the obsolete technology.
  • IMBDPro. For a modest fee, users can subscribe to an enhanced version of IMBD that provides industry contacts useful for tracking down rights holders and other pertinent information about a film.
  • Netflix Educational Screening of Documentaries. This page sets forth the language that will be available on any Netflix film listed that permits educational screenings. Unfortunately, Netflix does not provide a definitive list. Users may look up films here to find out if the provision applies.
  • National Media Market. The only conference in the US that is dedicated to librarians who work with film and video.

Don’t get caught in this fast-moving current without a strong toehold. The more you learn, the easier it will be to row gently down the stream. 


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