Monday, 18 November 2013

How to watch films online now that Blockbuster is dead

Recreating the in-store browsing experience
Now that Blockbuster is dead, what are the options for Blockbuster customers making the transition to the digital world?

The past
In days gone by, Blockbuster provided a valuable alternative to the trip out to the cinema, or to the linear TV schedule.  It was simple and relatively cheap to pop out to the local store and browse a good range, choose practically any film you could think of and rent it on video/DVD there and then for a reasonable price.

As more and more people came online, Blockbuster faced competition from the likes of Netflix and Lovefilm with their online DVD rental service. For a reasonable monthly fee, you could choose your films online and have them delivered right to your door, posting them back when you had watched them and then have the next film in your queue delivered automatically. These competitors didn't need to keep and run a battery of bricks-and-mortar stores. Blockbuster failed to adapt to this changing landscape - and has now perished.

The Present
Into the gap that Blockbuster has left four main models for online film and TV distribution have emerged. The first is subscription services like Netflix and Lovefilm, where you pay a low monthly fee for all-you-can-eat access to a catalogue of TV shows and films.  In addition, you have pay-as-you-go film providers such as iTunes, Google Play and Blinkbox, who typically have better catalogues of newer films and shows, but charge a not-insignificant fee per film watched.

A third model is emerging with Wuaki TV creating a hybrid service, with a subscription element complemented by some pay-as-you-go content. Add into the mix the free (or ad-supported) model of traditional broadcasters such the BBC and 4oD, and content available on services such as Youtube and Vimeo, and it starts to look very muddled. Each provider has its own catalogues, pricing and apps, making it complex for a user to navigate.

The likes of IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes are really useful sources for film information, and lots of users report cross-referencing with these sites when they are choosing what to watch on an on-demand service, but the experience is disjointed. IMDb in particular is useful for film information, but doesn’t show whether a particular film or TV show is available to watch right now.

Today's challengers and the rise of multi-service discovery
Into this complexity steps the concept of "multi-service discovery" which has been floating around for a while, but it is only now that we are seeing sufficiently designed services that fit in this gap. The concept is a searchable database that lists all of the content available to the user, no matter the service, and makes it really easy to find something to watch.

Multi-service discovery has started to gain traction recently.  In the US, the likes of Fan TV have made an start in showing where certain titles are available to stream legally online, but lack true discoverability and browsing features. Similarly, Find Any Film have a strong database of titles and their availability, but the user interface falls short for the browsing scenario, where you don't yet know what film or show you want to watch.

Multi-service discovery also creates a valuable price comparison angle for consumers. Which service has the cheapest price for the movie I want to rent?  Which service will give me the HD movie for the price of the SD version? Which service has a film on special offer this week?

At Tank Top TV, we've attempted to recreate and enhance the in-store browsing experience of the likes Blockbuster for the digital world by building the UK's largest searchable database of on-demand film and television. Coupled with proprietary ordering and recommendations algorithms, the idea is to make it really easy to find something great to watch on-demand.

I’m looking forward to seeing more companies large and small innovating in this area. Google Chromecast is hugely exciting, and in the Smart TV space Samsung is making great strides with its Smart Hub technology and WhatsOn app, powered by Peel, promising a big step forward in 2014.

Multi-service discovery is a massive win for consumers as it shouldn't matter which service a title is on. You should just be able to see the full range of content available to you in one place, without having to search each different app with a different interface or input device every time.

So multi-service discovery can bring back the browsing and discovery that we experienced at the local Blockbuster.

It might also be good evolution for your waistline too as you will no longer be going to the local movie store to pick up the overpriced and fattening popcorn/sweets/drinks at the till!