Unsurprisingly the coronavirus crisis has prompted an uptick in views of classic and heritage cinema titles on streaming platforms, even spawning new online outlets for vintage films.

Now the hope is that this increased interest can serve as a stimulus to foster greater preservation of the world’s cinematic patrimony before it’s too late.

That is one of the key considerations that surfaced from a Locarno Pro webinar on the distribution of heritage and library films on streamers held Saturday with top players in the field.

Emilie Cauquy, head of distribution of France’s Cinematheque Francaise, recounted how during the pandemic they launched a streaming channel called Henri, named in honor of the venerable institution’s famed former chief Henri Langlois, who was a film preservation pioneer. The free service has been doing extremely well.

“We’ve had a lot of YouTubers. A lot of people coming to see films that they had never heard about,” said Cauquy. She noted that “the first day we had 50,000 people connecting” to Henri, which has now reached “more or less 1 million” views. They are mostly from France, but also from as far as Chile – where the service is going strong – but also Brazil, Japan, and Russia since the platform is not geo-blocked because Langlois had secured world rights for a portion of the cinematheque’s library.

Penelope Bartlett, programmer for The Criterion Channel VOD platform, which streams more than 2,000 classic heritage titles in North America, said that during the pandemic she has seen “an uptick in engagement levels.” And not only subscriber levels, “but also just the amount of time that people are spending on the platform and the amount of films that they’re watching.” With most movie theaters still closed, Criterion Channel is also getting lots of requests from the arthouse theater world in the U.S. and Canada “to work together to continue to engage their communities, which is something that we’ve been able to do with the platform that has been kind of a lifeline during this time,” she noted.

Bartlett added that Criterion Channel, however, do not intend to expand the streaming service to other parts of the world because they “would have to negotiate (rights) rates for that and it would be a very long and complex process.”

From a sales perspective, Geremia Biagiotti, head of international sales for Italy’s Intramovies – which has a vast library of Italian classics – said they have been doing good business during the pandemic. But not that much with global streamers since “it’s quite complicated to go to an online VOD platform and say to them, okay, I can give you worldwide” because “we have a lot of territories that are sold exclusively and were sold many, many years ago.” That said, Intra is expanding its heritage titles footprint outside Italy, Biagiotti said, noting that they are looking at possibly acquiring some Slovenian archives and that they already have some non-Italian films from the past.

Frederic Maire, director of the Cinematheque Suisse, pointed out that over the past decade a “real market” has emerged for heritage cinema and the pandemic has clearly increased the interest for these titles on platforms.

“That’s why we need to restore more and we need to digitize more,” Maire said. Which is problematic because we are in the midst of an economic crisis.

Still “the increase in restoration will grow and grow” driven by the market, Maire added. But as efforts to preserve the world’s film patrimony gain momentum, what’s important is not to just focus on “the big titles that spark interest around the world” but also smaller films that for cinephiles may even be more interesting.

“We need to find public money to do that,” Maire noted.