A demo of the new video discovery service Fanhattan (preview) blew me away. This free iPad app sounds simple--it finds stuff about movies and TV shows you want to watch--but the depth of the content, utility of what the site does, and clarity of the interface just puts this app on a different level than anything else I've seen.
Fanhattan officially launches at the D9 conference today; CEO Giles BianRosa gave me a run-through last week. This write-up is based on his demo; unfortunately I didn't get a preview copy of the app to try myself.
The main feature is Fanhattan's database of which content is playing where. If you're looking for "The Fighter," Fanhattan will tell you, perhaps, that you can see it on iTunes and get it from Netflix DVD delivery, but the Amazon and Hulu indicators will remain unlit if it's not on those platforms. If you're looking for episodes of a TV show, you might see the availability indicators change as you move from season to season, as many shows' seasons appear differently on various content sales and rental sites. It solves one big iPad annoyance: having to hop between apps trying to find a specific movie or show you want to watch.
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When you want to play content, Fanhattan fires up the appropriate player on your device; it doesn't try to appropriate the audience for itself. And if you never want to see a service, because you don't subscribe to it, you can disable it from appearing.
It looks pretty handy so far, but it's the rest of the experience that closes the deal and that's likely to make Fanhattan some decent revenue. The app does a great job of collecting and displaying related information from movies--stars' pictures and bios, Facebook fan pages, reviews from various sources, merchandise on Amazon, music tracks from iTunes, tickets from Fandango for films still in theaters, and so on. Fanhattan makes money from affiliate relationships when somebody buys a product or content via the app.
There's absolutely nothing on Fanhattan you can't also find on Google, IMDb, Amazon, and elsewhere. Fanhattan just makes it easy and fun to find it all. It has data from most of the major online video sources, although it's not got them all covered; the new (and great) HBO Go isn't in the lineup yet.
The one tragedy of Fanhattan, so far, is that your viewing experience is limited to the iPad. This app is the ultimate movie-watcher's remote control and content companion--who needs DVD extras when you have this?--but it can't yet control what you see on your living room big screen. AirPlay may eventually bridge that gap. If not, BianRosa hopes to build the app into connected TVs. "The main course is to launch this on TVs," he told me. "We want consumers to stay in the living room but get the richness of Web content."
My hunch is that the company is overfunded, though: it's raised $35 million in venture. I'm not sure why a directory company needs all that. Still, Fanhattan works, and is necessary for consumers, thanks to many Hollywood shows having crazy "release windows" that sees them hop between online stores and streaming players, while others stay at their own branded service for good. Consumers can't be expected to keep track of what's where, and Fanhattan does the best job I've yet seen of doing it for them.
See also Clicker, which CNET parent company CBS acquired (and whose founder is now president of CBS Interactive).