By Paul Casciato
LONDON (Reuters) - The British Film Institute plans to launch a digital service this month offering access to one of the world's richest movie collections stretching from rare Edwardian footage to contemporary cinema.
Founded 80 years ago, the BFI will introduce its BFI Player on October 9 to a rapidly growing video-on-demand (VOD) market worth some 243 million pounds ($393.75 million) in Britain in 2012.
"I think this is our most important moment since I've been here," BFI Chairman Greg Dyke told Reuters on Wednesday. "When I arrived at the BFI (five years ago) it wasn't really in the digital world at all. Now we're there."
The player will initially only be offered to British subscribers.
"If the rest of the world wanted to see it, we'd have to do an international version," said Dyke, a former director-general of the BBC whose iPlayer has been a hit with TV audiences.
BFI digital director Edward Humphrey said the time was right to enter a British VOD market which grew by 50 percent in the year to 2012 and has attracted players such as Netflix and Amazon's LOVEFILM.
The initial version will be rolled out for computers and tablet devices and organized into seven different "collections" for navigation: "London Film Festival Presents", "Backed by the BFI", "Edwardian Britain", "Gothic", "Cult cinema", "Inside Film" and a selection from industry magazine Sight and Sound.
One of the offerings will be special events that will see British and world premieres available on the BFI Player on the day they open in the cinemas.
The first two will be Clio Barnard's film version of Oscar Wilde's "The Selfish Giant" on October 25 and the BFI restoration of "The Epic of Everest" - about an ill-starred 1924 British attempt to climb the world's highest mountain - on October 18.
The archive will contain footage of Queen Victoria's funeral as well as 28 hours of film taken of Edwardian life.
($1 = 0.6172 British pounds)
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)