You may (or may not) know Vuze. It's the company behind the eponymous Bittorrent client (formerly known as Azureus) that's been slowly but surely morphing into a do-it-all media software hub.
The Vuze software is all fine and good (5 stars from CNET editors, an average of 4 stars from more than 1,900 CNET users), but that's yesterday's news. The company is emerging from the Bittorrent shadows and aiming to become the next big thing on the media landscape with its new venture: Fanhattan.
(Before we proceed: Yes, it's "Fanhattan." As in, "fan + Manhattan." Ridicule it all you want, but just remember the same scorn that was heaped upon the names "Wii" and "iPad" before they went on to become the defining products in their respective categories.)
Fanhattan is designed to be an entertainment discovery engine, a single point of aggregation for all of the TV and movie entertainment options available on (and off) the Web. At the core of the service is The Open Movie Database (TMDb), a formerly independent user-created database that Vuze has now acquired. (Vuze says the site "will be completely rebranded and redesigned to support the new service.")
Using the TMDb metadata, the hope is that Fanhattan will be a comprehensive resource for searching on TV shows, movies, actors, directors, and other related information. In addition to providing the standard "related content you might also enjoy" links, Fanhattan aims to provide links to the relevant content itself, regardless of the source.
That's where things get tricky. For now, Fanhattan doesn't have any content partners officially on board (none, at least, that they're willing to publicly discuss). Thus, the rather silly looking screenshot below, which has generic "Content Partner 1," "Content Partner 2," and "Content Partner 3" placeholders on it. However, when I saw a behind-closed-doors demo of Fanhattan two weeks ago (in Manhattan, no less), those spots were filled with the familiar names that already lead the streaming media world. The Fanhattan rep specifically stated that it was strictly for demo purposes and didn't imply that any of those services were destined to be partners or that there was any official connection to Fanhattan whatsoever. (Indeed, he also said that Fanhattan wouldn't support the sort of wink/nudge hacks found on early versions of Boxee--they're looking to play nice with Hollywood from day one.)
That said, the point was that it didn't really matter. It could be Netflix, Amazon, or Vudu. Or, those services could be viewed as redundant middleman from Fanhattan's perspective. The same sort of partnerships could be made directly with the content owners themselves. The content partners could be the studios or TV networks, which could bypass those aforementioned services completely. NBC, Fox, HBO, and Warner (for instance) could elect to provide their own content on a pay-per-view or subscription basis. (Again, this is all speaking completely theoretically.)
The point is that, from the perspective of the Fanhattan user, it wouldn't matter. You would search on a show or a movie you want to see, and the service would tell you which, if any, existing content partner was providing it--and offer one-click access to it. Alternately, it could tell you when it was hitting a given service provider (say, "Available on Netflix starting January 15"), or--if it was a movie still in theaters--it could offer a link to buy tickets in your local cinema. Want to see the trailer, or the star's appearance on Letterman? More easy links. And, as the screenshot below shows, you could also get links to real-world merchandise tie-ins (T-shirts, toys, video games, books, the works.) It's one-stop shopping for everything related to your favorite TV shows and movies--convenient for the user, enticing for the marketer.
Just as Fanhattan aims to be content agnostic--that is, open to partnering with any and all content and service providers--it's also aiming to be platform agnostic. The demo I saw was running on a Macbook Pro--that and Windows are the first place you'll see it in "early 2011." But the intention is that it will also be built in to a wide variety of consumer electronics "later in 2011." That's everything from Internet-connected TVs, Blu-ray players, and streaming media boxes, to tablets and phones. (The interface is designed to work equally well with a standard directional pad remote or a touch-screen.)
If that all sounds ambitious, it is. If it all sounds a bit vague, it is. And if it all sounds like it's been promised before--by the likes of TiVo, Google TV, Boxee, Clicker.com, and TV.com (just to name a few)--it has. Likewise, there is a litany of unanswered questions and "what ifs" here--which partners, if any, will come to the table, how good is the crowdsourced metadata going to be, will it be yet another vaporware or late-to-market product that's eclipsed by a competitor.... The list goes on.
On the other hand, the demo I saw was smooth, with a lightning-fast interface. Navigation was intuitive, and search worked well. And the idea of the product--universal video search--is certainly the online video holy grail that many of us have been yearning for. In other words, Fanhattan certainly shows potential. We'll have to see if it lives up to it when it launches. Until then, it's a great yardstick against which to measure the competing products and services we're all but certain to see at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in just a few weeks.
What do you guys think?