Since 2007, London-based Mubi has quietly built a reputation as a stellar streaming service for serious film lovers.
While Netflix has grabbed the headlines, Mubi has survived and thrived, snagging a recent valuation of $125 million and sweeping into China ahead of its much larger rival.
Last year, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and indie heavyweight, chose to give Mubi the exclusive streaming rights to his new film, “Junun.” For reference, Mubi has 100,000 subscribers, while Netflix has 75 million.
So how has Mubi found success in a Netflix world? In part, it’s because Mubi thinks of films as something distinct from “video,” or “content,” CEO Efe Cakarel tells Business Insider.
“We used to have this all-you-can-eat buffet, similar to Netflix but for independent films,” Cakarel says.
But a few years ago, Cakarel realised that people don’t consume movies the same way they do TV shows. Searching Netflix for a new show might be annoying, but once you have found it, you can settle into tens of hours of binge-watching before you go back into research. With movies, it’s more painful, since you have to start that search again every two hours. In other words, too much choice can be a burden.
That’s when Cakarel decided to shift Mubi’s $4.99 per month service to a heavily curated model.
“We have the rights to thousands of films per country,” he explains. But as a Mubi subscriber, each country’s curatorial team picks 30 films every month you can watch (one is added and one removed every day). This makes the process of picking easier, he says.
You trust that you’ll enjoy any of the 30 — though you have to enjoy movies of a particular type (indie, no Michael Bay).
But limiting selection doesn’t mean Mubi doesn’t have expansive ambition. Mubi has teamed up with local partner Huanxi Media Group to launch in China. The two have a joint venture (MUBI China), but Huanxi has also invested $10 million in Mubi directly, valuing the company at $125 million.
The Chinese film market is exploding, Cakarel says, and a niche service like Mubi is better positioned to take advantage of it than Netflix in the short term. Because of the onerous process of getting foreign movies approved in China, Mubi’s task of getting a few dozen by the government is feasible, while Netflix’s task of getting thousands vetted is nigh impossible without rule changes. Mubi will also have 70% local Chinese films, with only 30% foreign imports.
Mubi’s basic theory is that it has developed both a distinct and attractive way to structure a streaming service — specifically for indie films. Now the company has the chance to make headway in the Chinese market before the Netflix juggernaut rolls into town.
But Cakarel says he also has his sights set on markets where Netflix is underserving film buffs, like in the US. Even with Netflix’s recent spree of buying original films, Cakarel thinks that many Americans who aren’t yet familiar with Mubi might simply prefer the way his company does business.
Mubi grew up with Netflix as a big brother, Cakarel says. “You instinctively develop a sense of ‘How can I grow with that, how can I differentiate myself?'”
Cakarel’s bet is that the Netflix for film lovers should actually look nothing like Netflix at all.
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