Profile: The ‘We Are Colony’ video-streaming service delivers something extra
The library on offer is small today, but each film includes bonus features typically available only on disc.
For movie buffs, bonus features—everything from secondary soundtracks with the director’s commentary to blooper reels, deleted scenes, and alternate endings—are part of the attraction of watching movies on DVD or Blu-ray discs. You get none of those treats when you stream a movie over the Internet, but one service aims to change that: the London-based startup We Are Colony.
Available today in more than 100 countries, We Are Colony offers only a small selection of mostly English films of less-than-blockbuster status, but featuring stars such as Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, Tom Hiddleston, and Felicity Jones. One of them, the acclaimed Appropriate Behavior, is fresh from movie theaters, and the rest—ranging from shorts to features—include documentaries, sci-fi, and even an animated film. Some of the titles are exclusive to We Are Colony, and they all feature exclusive behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, screenplays on PDF, stills, trailers, concept art, deleted scenes, and other goodies.
We Are Colony’s founder, Sarah Tierney, has been a producer of film and television, and previously worked in a digital distribution startup before moving in this direction. In a recent email interview, she explains that she chose the name as a kind of call-to-arms for fans to join together in a place where they could feel like a part of something. “Almost paradoxically,” she continues, “we didn’t want any reference to ‘film’ or ‘movies’ in the title, as the platform may diversify from this in the future.”
Tierney saw her unique combination of experiences leading directly to the new service, as well as recent changes in the marketplace. “Declining DVD sales was part of our thinking,” she said, “but it was a greater sense that bonus materials were an under-exploited aspect to film-making. This is fan-favorite content. Our users don’t differentiate. They see the additional content as as much of the story experience as the feature itself.”
Unlike another boutique streaming service we recently profiled, Fandor, We Are Colony is a pay-as-you-go platform, with prices ranging from $4.99 to rent a feature-length film for 48 hours. You can purchase short films for as little as $2.99 while most full-length movies cost between $9.99 and $12.99. In all cases, the price includes a generous collection of extras (which can include the script, deleted scenes, storyboards, concept art, still photographs, interviews with the cast and crew, and more).
Purchased content is stored in a digital locker, so you don’t need to wait for large video files to download and then take up permanent residence on your local storage. You can sign up for free, without needing to provide a credit card until you initiate a transaction, and you can preview lots of content before purchasing anything. Tierney says the company has “prioritized digital access over digital ownership.”
A big question is whether a new startup can survive a head-to-head competition with a mainstream service like Netflix, but Tierney sounds confident. “We get asked all the time if the platform is one for cinema buffs, and I would say that, while we definitely have some true film buffs amongst our members, our usership is far more mainstream than many think,” she says. “Our curation approach focuses on talent-driven or strong genre titles, and we target engaged fan bases around these.”
Moving forward, the company will consider offering TV series, although Tierney says she finds that intended formats are increasingly less important, that our viewing habits are radically different today than they were in the days of network TV. However, she does believe that “serialized content would work really well under our model.”
We Are Colony hopes to produce more original content, as Netflix and Amazon do, and it has already begun by co-funding the short film The Muse, starring Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, Skyfall). “We sadly don’t have the budgets of Netflix, but on the right project we can definitely get involved, particularly to enable the creation of great extra content and to run a compelling marketing campaign that brings audiences closer to the film,” says Tierney.
“Our initial launch catalogue was predominantly British and smaller-budget,” she admits, “and we will continue to champion this kind of film but, over the coming months, we’re also excited to release some much bigger titles, from international partners. Watch this space!”
Having put in her time in the industry, Tierney says that she’s not exactly sure that she herself would qualify as a true hardcore movie buff. “I’m really passionate about documentary and its ability to engage and compel, and when it comes to movies I have really wide, and I think pretty mainstream, tastes,” she says. “But I’m so excited to be a building a community where we can all get closer to the films we love.”