Kanopy is a free streaming service that is made available through public libraries and universities.
Featuring content from big-name production companies including Paramount and HBO Documentaries, Kanopy is available as a resource to members of more than 4,000 libraries around the world. Oh, and did I mention that the content is ad-free?
This article was updated in October 2023 and I review it every 12 months. Detailed notes on all updates will be provided.
Table of Contents
- What Is Kanopy?
- How To Watch Kanopy
- Content Available on Kanopy
- User Experience With Kanopy
- Final Thoughts
Team Clark loves to save money, and there’s nothing better to help the monthly budget than a price tag of zero. As a part of our analysis of no-cost content options, we felt it was important to highlight the availability of Kanopy as a potential piece of your personal menu of TV streaming options.
This review is one of many we’ve conducted as a part of our free streaming TV series. You can learn more about our strategies for getting free streaming TV below.
What Is Kanopy?
Kanopy is an ad-free streaming service that distributes content through membership at public libraries and universities.
In contrast to popular free streaming TV services that offer live TV channels or on-demand movies and TV shows with a traditional commercial break format, Kanopy focuses on providing movies, documentaries, foreign films, classic cinema, independent films and educational videos without commercial interruption.
How To Watch Kanopy
Kanopy is unlike many other free streaming services that allow you to download their apps and watch for free, with the content provider making money off advertisements aired within the programming.
Instead, Kanopy charges libraries and universities a fee for providing content for their members.
Each user is allotted a certain amount of free digital rentals per month. These allotments can vary based on your access point.
For instance, I was able to unlock up to 10 per month in my location while Team Clark’s Anthony only received 6 per month in his location.
Here’s a closer look at how that works:
If you have a library card at one of the 4,000-plus libraries that partner with Kanopy, you’re eligible to receive a free login for the streaming service.
You may be wondering how that’s possible from a financial standpoint. Kanopy explains its money-making process here:
“Kanopy offers a demand-driven model in public libraries, not dissimilar to an iTunes Rental. We charge a library $2 for every film played (after a 5-second interval). On average, an active public library member watches 2.2 videos per month. “
In other words, Kanopy charges a library each time a film is watched.
Kanopy has a search option that allows you to enter either a specific library name or a location to search for availability in your area.
You can search to see if your local library is a participant in the Kanopy program here. If it is, you’ll just need a valid library card number and a PIN/password.
If you are a student or faculty member at a participating college, you should be able to use Kanopy. At some universities, it may be possible for alumni or community members to gain access to memberships.
The way Kanopy monetizes this is a bit different than its strategy for public libraries.
“The university is charged a one year license of $150 for every film that is watched 4 or more times in a 12-month period. This license grants unlimited simultaneous viewing of the film for all students and professors on campus for the license period. More than 60% of what gets watched on campus never incurs any fees — it is effectively free viewing.”
During the sign-up process, you’re likely to be prompted to provide university credentials (university login ID and password) to gain access.
You can search to see if your university is a participant in the Kanopy program here. Kanopy says it is available in roughly 85% of the “large” universities in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Devices and Apps
Kanopy is available through phone apps, television apps and via web player.
If you’re looking to stream Kanopy on a TV, you can do that using either a streaming device or a smart TV. Here’s a list of compatible streaming options:
- Apple TV
- Amazon Fire TV
- Google Chromecast
- Android TV
- Samsung televisions
You can also stream Kanopy on a laptop, desktop or other web-viewing devices through the website.
Content Available To Stream on Kanopy
Kanopy differentiates itself nicely from others in the free streaming content world by offering a variety of non-mainstream content. That’s good if you’re looking to branch out and try something new, but could be a little frustrating if you’re looking for a familiar show to relax with after a long day.
Kanopy utilizes many different film and documentary content partners to populate its library. It claims more than 12,000 filmmaker and supplier partners as a part of its network that reaches more than 45 million eligible public library members in more than 200 countries.
Here are some of the more well-known partners:
- HBO Documentaries
- The Criterion Collection
Popular Films and Documentaries
As mentioned previously, if you add Kanopy to your free streaming mix, you’re probably going to do so based on their collection of documentaries and independent films.
Here’s a sampling of just some of the thousands of titles available for streaming:
- “Eye in the Sky”
- “Gulliver’s Travels”
- “Lady Bird”
- “Loving Vincent”
- “On Chesil Beach”
You can browse the available content on Kanopy here.
There is an entire section of Kanopy that is dedicated to children. As you might expect from a service that caters to public institutions, it relies heavily on content produced by Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
Some of the popular children’s content available includes:
- “Peanuts” (Charlie Brown and Snoopy)
- “Sesame Street”
- “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (based on Mr. Rogers characters)
- “Franklin the Turtle”
User Experience With Kanopy
The biggest hurdle to climb with Kanopy is acquiring your free access. Unlike most of the free streaming services that we’ve reviewed, Kanopy requires a little bit of legwork on the front end.
But once you have your access, you will find a pretty straightforward user experience that probably will feel familiar to some other apps you may have used already.
How Bad Are the Ads?
Did we mention that Kanopy is a commercial-free experience? That’s probably one of the biggest draws to this platform as a free streaming option. Advertisements are a key piece to most free streaming services. It is refreshing to not have to deal with that on Kanopy.
The user interface for Kanopy is clean and straightforward. Content is segmented by genre, and the most popular content for each subcategory is featured on the home screen. With a swipe on the phone, you’re able to move left-to-right through the available content for each genre.
As you’ll notice on the screengrab above, there is a search icon in the top right corner that allows you to quickly identify if a piece of content is available on Kanopy.
When you select a piece of content you’d like to view from the menu screen, you are taken to a screen that has more information on the content. This area includes any ratings, the length, release date and a detailed synopsis. From there, you can launch the content by selecting the “Watch Now” option on your device.
Tips for Enjoying Kanopy
Has some of the available content caught your attention? Here are some tips for enjoying it on Kanopy:
- Research the Documentaries: Kanopy has a robust collection of documentaries — some of which you may have heard of, others you may not know. I’d suggest doing a little homework on some of the titles to find a topic that interests you.
- Involve the Kids: It seems like several of the free streaming services I have reviewed view the child audience as an afterthought. With Kanopy Kids, there is an effort made to engage young viewers in a kid-safe section of the service.
- Try Something New and Uncomfortable: Between the selection of edgy independent films and documentaries with sometimes controversial and uncomfortable topics, there’s a real opportunity to challenge yourself and your beliefs with the content on this platform.
Final Thoughts on Kanopy
Still trying to decide whether or not you should add Kanopy to your streaming portfolio? Here are some pros and cons to think over.
Kanopy: Pros and Cons
|FREE!||Must be a member of a participating library or university|
|Ad-free experience||Libraries and universities have to pay for the content|
|Excellent selection of documentaries and kids’ content||Not much in the way of mainstream entertainment|
Look, you’re not going to find a cutting-edge sitcom or a Hollywood action thriller on Kanopy. But if you go into it with the expectation of exploring documentaries, independent films and a decent catalog of children’s content, you’re likely going to be happy with the content — and certainly with the price tag. If your local library offers this program, it’s worth making sure your card is active so that you can check it out.
Do you have experience watching the Kanopy streaming service? We’d love to hear your thoughts in our Clark.com community!