Kanopy Review: How Your Library Card Provides Free Streaming

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Kanopy is a free streaming service available through libraries.
Image Credit: Kanopy/Clark.com

Kanopy is a free streaming service that is made available through public libraries and universities.

Featuring content from big-name production companies like Paramount and HBO Documentaries, Kanopy is available as a resource to members of more than 4,000 libraries around the world. Oh, and did we mention that the content is ad-free?

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Team Clark loves the chance to save money, and there’s nothing better to help the monthly budget than a price tag of “free.” 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.

Given the widespread availability of free streaming content from services like Tubi TV and Pluto TV, does Kanopy belong on your list of apps to download?

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 instead 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 the content for their members.

Here’s a closer look at how that works:

Local Libraries

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.

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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.

Kanopy has a search option to see if your library is eligible.

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.

Public Universities

If a local library in your area is not a possibility, you also could access Kanopy through a local public university’s library. 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 signup process you’re likely to be prompted to provide university credentials (university login ID and password) to gain access:

Kanopy will require that you use university credentials to view content.

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.

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Devices and Apps

Kanopy is available through phone apps, television apps and via web player.

The Android phone app is available in the Google Play Store, while the iOS version can be found on the Apple App Store. There are also apps available on Android, iPad and Amazon Fire tablet devices.

If you’re looking to stream Kanopy on a TV, you can do that using either a streaming device or smart TV. Here’s a list of compatible streaming options:

  • Apple TV
  • Roku
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Google Chromecast
  • Android TV
  • Samsung televisions

You can also stream Kanopy on a laptop, desktop or other web-viewing device 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.

Content Partners

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 recognizable partners:

  • PBS
  • Paramount
  • HBO Documentaries
  • A24
  • 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:

  • Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like
  • Super Size Me 2
  • Lady Bird
  • Zodiac
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas
  • Captain Fantastic
  • Chinatown
  • I Am Big Bird
  • Echo in the Canyon
  • Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood

You can browse the available content on Kanopy here.

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Kanopy Kids

There is an entire section of the Kanopy offering 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).

Kanopy offers children's programming with Kanopy Kids.

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)
  • Arthur
  • Caillou
  • 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, which make signing up for accounts optional and the content easy to access, 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.

In this area, you might favorably compare the user experience to that of a paid subscription service like Disney+ or Apple TV+.

User Interface

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.

Kanopy has documentaries and independent films.

As you’ll notice on the screen grab above, there is a search bar in the top right corner that allows you to quickly identify if a piece of content is available on Kanopy.

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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.

Kanopy offers preview screens for each piece of content.

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 pretty 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 Children: It seems like several of the free streaming services I have reviewed more or less 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

Pros Cons
FREE! Must be member of 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

Bottom Line: Look, you’re not going to find yourself a cutting edge sitcom or a Hollywood action thriller on Kanopy. But if you go into it with the expectation of watching documentaries, independent films and a decent catalog of children’s content, you’re likely to be interested in making this service a part of your free streaming game plan. 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 the comments below!

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