Matcha vs. Fanhattan, or, A Plea for Content Discovery Apps on the Main Screen
The most challenging thing about moving out of reach of the cable cord, for me, is content discovery. These days, there’s a lot of over-the-top content you can view on your TV through Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. — but most devices don’t allow you to browse all of that content from a single app. Instead, you have to go into each video streaming app, one by one, to see what’s on.
Rummaging around for content in several different apps requires significantly more effort than channel surfing on a cable box (I like to call this the “silo effect”, because the content is segregated into separate services, like silos. And also possibly because I live on a farm). And this “silo effect,” in my lab tester’s opinion, is the biggest problem facing cord-cutters right now. (Though some might argue it’s the inability to stream Game of Thrones).
Google TV comes pretty close with its TV & Movies app, which I’ve ranted about at length in another post. In short, it would work better if there were more content to discover on the Google TV.
Boxee also does a decent job of unifying content in one place, but like Google TV it lacks in paid streaming apps (for example, Hulu Plus and Amazon aren’t available). But unlike Google TV, Boxee’s browser isn’t blocked from every service provider website, and now can access selected titles on the Xfinity website (which are available without a pay TV login, surprisingly.) So it offers a pretty good selection of ad-supported web content.
But other players, like Roku and NeoTV, which do access most of the major streaming video services, don’t yet unify it — so you can’t search or browse in one place.
Mobile devices, on the other hand, are progressing a little faster in terms of content discovery. Because I’ve been watching a lot more TV on my iPad lately, I’ve been trying out various apps in the hopes that we’ll soon be seeing some of them on other devices.
So this week, we bring you a comparison of two of the most popular content discovery apps for the iPad: Matcha and Fanhattan.
Matcha is an iPad app that allows you to search and browse content from iTunes, Amazon Prime and Instant Video, Netflix, Hulu Plus and Xfinity. You can also connect to your Facebook account, if you’d like to see what your friends are watching and do a little oversharing of your own.
Matcha’s user interface (UI) is pretty slick, with a row of buttons you can toggle on and off to include different sources, so the search results display only what you can authenticate into / access. (Meaning if you don’t do Hulu Plus, you can filter it out.) The main screen includes rows for recently watched titles and queue, which combine results from all the services you select.
Once you tap the link to watch a video on Netflix or Hulu, you don’t need to confirm your selection again before it starts playing – the ease of use is pretty stellar compared to similar apps I’ve tried.
Unfortunately, Matcha’s robust search capabilities outshine the iPad’s selection of video apps. Because there’s currently no way to watch Amazon video content on the iPad, for instance, those results are marked “web only.”
But even though you can’t click right through to watch Amazon content, it’s still very useful to be able to search so many sources at once – for example, Leslie recently asked me to find out which services could be used to stream Doctor Who. Traditionally, such a request would involve about 15 minutes of searching, one by one, on the various service provider websites. This time, it took maybe 15 seconds to get an answer (and it’s on both Netflix and Amazon Prime, in case you were wondering).
Fanhattan is an app for iPhone and iPad, which will be coming soon to web AND TV according to the company website. (But is it coming to an OTT set-top box? A smart TV platform? We don’t yet know.)
Fanhattan combines results from Netflix, Hulu Plus, iTunes, and the ABC Player app, and it has useful browsing categories like “Hottest,” “New on Hulu Plus” and “Netflix Marathon.” And like Matcha, you can connect Fanhattan to your Facebook account .
There are several things I like about the UI and the app in general — for instance the “Smart Browse” feature which allows you to narrow the selection to include certain genres, ratings, air dates, etc.
But while I really want to like Fanhattan, I’m sorry to say it’s just not ready for primetime yet. For one, Fanhattan seems to have a few issues with the way it redirects and opens the video. If you left off watching something within the Netflix app, that will launch instead of what you selected to play through Fanhattan. And about 90% of the time in our tests, the Hulu Plus app got hung up, crashing both the Hulu Plus and Fanhattan apps in the process.
And while I’m on the subject of Fanhattan and Hulu Plus, I noticed that many shows had limited availability on Fanhattan – for example, recent episodes from Fox and Comedy Central are on Hulu at least a week before they can be accessed via Fanhattan. I’m not sure why this is the case on Fanhattan and not Matcha (which allows you to access Hulu content the day after air), but I do know that I’m unlikely to use a content discovery app that further limits what I’m able to access.
Ultimately, the work of outfits like Matcha and Fanhattan can be categorized as “aggregation.” They aggregate the video aggregators, essentially, as it relates to the presentation of the metadata associated with “what’s on.” It’s progress, but I want more. (More on that another time.)