Is a free streaming service coming to a library near you?

Your local library might start competing with Netflix. 


Aaron Sankin


Published Jan 31, 2014   Updated May 31, 2021, 7:41 pm CDT

The fact that Netflix can instantly, almost magically connect us to content sort of overshadows the fact that its business model hasn’t really changed since the early days when it was mailing DVDs to your front door. Essentially, Netflix is in the movie rental business… just like your local library is, where you can check out DVDs. And now they’re being motivated to start acting more like the mega-successful streaming service.

There’s a growing push to upgrade public libraries so that members stream movies. At a time when Netflix is looking to increase the price of its streaming service, libraries across North America are partnering with a company called Hoopla to offer something similar for the price of a library card—namely, free.

The next library system likely to get Hoopla is in Toronto, where library officials told the Toronto Star they expect an agreement to be reached within the next few weeks. ?It’s the next evolution for libraries,” Hoopla Chief Brand Manager Michael Manon explained. “It provides a great deal of relevance to the millennial crowds.”

Hoopla isn’t exactly analogous to a free version of Netflix. Instead, it adheres a little closer to the logic of a traditional library. Users pick a title to virtually check out, they when have a set window when they can view the content, and, when that period of time is up, the title is automatically ?returned” to the library without having to deal with late fees.

There are currently 130 libraries across North America that use the service and Hoopla, which launched it service to the public last year, told Toronto Metro News the company expects to expand to over 400 locations by the end of 2014.

GigaOm reports that libraries pay somewhere between $0.99 and $2.99 every time a patron checks out a title on Hoopla. Unlike with physical copies, multiple people can check out the same item simultaneously.

While a Hoopla-enabled library movie streaming does come with an attractive price tag, the selection does leave something to be desired—at least when it comes to recently released movies. In the ?New & Notable” category, selections include Jaws 3, the Eddie Murphy remake of The Nutty Professor, and something called Kitten Party. But, as a recent headline on the satirical newspaper The Onion so aptly put it  (?Netflix Instant Thinking About Adding Good Movie”), it’s not like Netflix is setting the bar sky-high.

It’s worth noting that in addition to over 10,000 movies, Hoopla also offers free streaming of more 10,000 audiobooks and 250,000 albums.

Hoopla isn’t the first streaming program aimed at libraries. There’s also Freegal, a service that lets library patrons permanently download a set number of songs per week. When the library system in Multnomah County, Ore. signed up for Hoola earlier this month, it  terminated its relationship with Freegal.

The move toward incorporating digital services like Hoopla is part of a recent push by libraries to boldly move into a ?paperless” future. Last September, the city of San Antonio, Tex. opened a $2.4 million all-digital library boasting over 10,000 e-readers and not a single printed page.

Photo by Thaler/Wikimedia Commons

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*First Published: Jan 31, 2014, 4:35 pm CST