Univ. loses use of online film-viewing service

Students will no longer have the luxury of watching films for classes online at a time and place of their choosing.

The recent collapse of Cdigix — the company that has provided the University with an online film viewing service called C-Labs since its inception in 2004 — has affected an estimated 80 to 100 Yale courses that used to rely on Cdigix to allow students to watch movies on their own time. Although University administrators are in the process of finding a replacement service, it is unlikely that an alternative will be found this semester, said Chuck Powell, senior director of Academic Media and Technology for Yale’s Information Technology Services.

For now, professors will either have to sponsor classwide movie screenings or omit films from their syllabi altogether.

The sudden demise of Cdigix — which declared bankruptcy at the end of the year — caught University officials off guard, especially since Yale was prepared to renew its contract with the company for an indefinite amount of time, Powell said. But given the economic downturn, Powell said, the company’s downfall was not shocking.

“Essentially, the combination of subscription fees, venture capital and the tightening of the market meant they couldn’t come up with enough money to sustain operations,” Powell said. “They, like a lot of other businesses around the globe, could not survive.”

But problems with the service itself could have contributed to its downfall, history professor Seth Fein said. Although Cdigix facilitated the use of film to complement other classroom materials, Fein said, it did not often provide a reliable platform for film viewings, saying the customer service department was unhelpful.

“There was poor quality control in production, and the service for students was always uneven,” said Fein, who was one of the first professors to use C-Labs. “Sometimes we never knew students continued having problems [with the films].”

Given that the company seemed to have under-invested in resources to serve Yale, Fein said, “it was unsurprising that it went under suddenly, and based on its uneven service to students, it was unsurprising that it did not give Yale a heads-up.”

Regardless of the performance of the service, professors looking to keep films on their syllabi will have to reserve viewing rooms in either the Film Study Center or the Center for Language Studies — a reversion to past practices, Film Study Center director Michael Kerbel said.

Yale originally bought C-Labs as a replacement for group screenings, Kerbel said. Before the program, professors had to book a room in order to show films to classes. Kerbel said he expects the center will experience an upsurge in rooms reservations and film requests within the next few months.

But the impact of the bankruptcy has already been felt by the professors who relied heavily on C-Labs, including French professors who use cinema to teach students about French culture.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Ruth Koizim, a senior lector in the French department. “We can’t take our students to all of the countries where the languages are spoken. Cinemas do take them and gives them an inside view on the cultures.”

Film studies professors are likewise concerned that they will not be able to assign as many movies as they would like because of the difficulty of scheduling screenings.

“You need to have seen a lot of different kinds of films to understand why a director decided to make film in particular way,” said Aaron Gerow, a professor of film studies and East Asian languages and literatures. “But in screening time, you can only show a certain number of films.”

Still, the effects of Cdigix’s sudden termination of operations does not seem to have been widespread. Eight out of 19 professors interviewed for this article said they did not know about C-Labs.

Moreover, six out of 10 students interviewed either had never heard of the program or did not think the discontinued service would overly impact the learning environment. “I’ve only used it once to watch a movie freshman year,” Mitchell Ji ’09 said. “I don’t know many professors or students who use it.”

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