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Kanopy (US)

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Nowadays, it can be very easy to feel inundated with TV and movie streaming services. It can be hard to keep up. It seems as if every other week, there is a new premium streaming service being released. Every film studio and TV network is just now trying to get a piece of the premium streaming pie. I can’t say I blame them either … it is one of the most lucrative industries of recent memory, bringing in billions of dollars every year.

This is, of course, a good thing. It can never really hurt to have an overabundance of options when it comes to our entertainment. In fact, it could be said that there has never been a better time to be a movie or television lover. One thing is for sure … we have never had so many options available to us, neither when it comes to the myriad different ways in which we can watch movies and TV or the number of high-quality original movies and television series that we have available to us.

All of the competition that comes with hundreds of different streaming subscriptions has resulted in the bar being raised significantly when it comes to the quality of the movies and the best TV shows that have been released in the last 10 or so years. Every streaming service, of course, wants to put out better exclusive, original content than the next one (so to take your money!). If there is one thing that capitalism has been good for, it has been the fact that this competition has resulted in some of the best movies and TV shows of all time.

Even though an overabundance of high-quality streaming sites is undeniably a good thing, it does have some downsides. For instance, trying to figure out which ones will be the best streaming sites for you can be a daunting task. Not to mention the fact that it can be way too expensive trying to juggle several premium streaming sites’ subscription fees at one time (time to start sharing those passwords!).

This is why I am especially excited to review sites like the one that we will be taking a look at today, Kanopy. Why do I love Kanopy so much? Well, for one thing, it is a free movie streaming site. But that is not all (there are plenty of those strewn around the web). There are a few aspects to Kanopy that make it, unlike any other free movie streaming site that I have ever heard of.

For instance, it is a free streaming site that looks, functions, and feels like a premium streaming site. The design, look, and interface of Kanopy is top tier. It looks amazing, it functions flawlessly, and it has an excellent selection of movies to choose from. These are somewhat rare features of any streaming site, let alone a free movie streaming site.

The main thing, though, that sets Kanopy apart from other sites like it is its focus on education and thought-provoking content, as well as its business model. It could be considered something like the anti-Netflix. Instead of simply trying to churn out as much content with the most widespread pop appeal possible (a la Netflix), Kanopy’s mission is to provide its viewers with only critically acclaimed and award-winning films and documentaries. Kanopy’s whole thing is quality and meaningfulness.

This is probably why, speaking to their unique business model, Kanopy is only available via your public library or University. Kanopy may be a free movie streaming site for you, but it is far from free in actuality. If your college or library offers Kanopy, they pay for the licensing fees of each title made available. In some cases, titles are made available on a pay per view basis. Nevertheless, Kanopy can be a great way to access films – whether you are a student or a teacher – that can help to expand your mind and supplement your coursework (or lifelong learning).

There really is no other free movie streaming site that is anything like Kanopy. So, I am beyond thrilled to share it with you. Even though it might not be for everyone, those of you who can use it/would be interested in it will 100% fall in love with it!

History

Kanopy was founded in Scarborough by Australian entrepreneur Olivia Humphrey in 2008. It was originally meant to function solely as an educational tool for colleges and universities. Although Kanopy began in West Australia, its headquarters today are in San Francisco, California.

Humphrey stayed on board for quite some time as CEO of Kanopy – much longer, I might add, than founders typically stay around when they have founded a company as successful and profitable as Kanopy turned out to be. So unique was Humphrey’s contributions to Kanopy, as well as the worlds of streaming and education tools, the International Documentary Organisation published a comprehensive interview with her that traces Kanopy, its history, and its aspirations.

Humphrey, however, finally stepped down from Kanopy in October of 2019. She was succeeded by Kevin Sayar. And to this day, Kanopy remains one of the most widely used and beloved educational streaming resources. I only wish that more people could take advantage of Kanopy’s great collection of critically acclaimed movies, documentaries, and foreign films.

Design

Kanopy’s design is sleek, neat, minimalistic, and user friendly. In terms of streaming sites, I wouldn’t say that Kanopy is particularly unique or different. It has borrowed the standard streaming site layout, offering a bunch of different genres and categories for browsing (each with its own side-scrolling capabilities). However, I would argue that perhaps Kanopy has perfected this familiar Netflix layout.

How have they managed to do this? Well, for one thing, I love how each of the sections of browsable categories is so much slimmer than usual. This makes for a cleaner, I think, and easier to navigate browsing feature. Plus, it allows Kanopy to fit more sections onto the page without the end result looking too cluttered or cramped. At the very top of the page, this clean and minimal look is continued, offering only a search bar and dropdown menu (making for a quick and convenient way to browse all of the genres available on Kanopy while still retaining the neatness that is characteristic of the rest of the site).

As far as the actual media player component of Kanopy is concerned, the site designers seemed to have turned more to YouTube for inspiration than Netflix. To the right of the video, you’ll find a list of related or recommended videos. Below the video is a “people who watched this also watched …” list, and further down below that, you will find a comments section. Although I am typically not a huge fan of this sort of layout, I do think that it works for an educational streaming site such as this one (I like the browsability that it enables).

Content and Features

As I just touched upon, Kanopy has a few social features, such as comments. However, you can also share films, add them to playlists, and create exportable clips. All of these features add up to make Kanopy the ideal educational media tool. If I were a teacher, for example, I might assign my students homework to watch a movie and then leave a comment.

I might also find it useful to export just a 5-minute clip from a movie to add to a lesson (without having to share the entire film). Kanopy also allows you to automatically generate transcripts of films or scenes. Also, instantly cite the film in your paper with Kanopy’s citation tool.

As far as content is concerned, as I have mentioned before, Kanopy specializes in thought-provoking, informative, and literary films. Think award-winning documentaries, critically acclaimed classic movies, and fascinating foreign films. If you love to learn (or teach), Kanopy is the free movie streaming site for you.

Mobile and Desktop Experience

Not only does Kanopy offer a top-notch desktop user experience, but it also has one of the best free movie streaming mobile apps that I have ever seen. The app is every bit as clean, smooth, user-friendly, and sleek as the browser site. Forget to watch your assigned movie for class? No problem, skim through the important parts on your phone while you walk to class! Kanopy is available on both iOS and Android devices.

Likes & Hates:
High-quality, educational content
Free to use, ad-free
Great site/app design
Only available for participating universities/libraries