The TV is the last screen in most people’s homes to be conquered by the Internet. Although with so many companies both big and small going after that screen—Google, Apple, Boxee, Roku—it seems like someone will eventually figure it out. Now you can add to that list Fanhattan, a new company spun off from Vuze, the maker of the popular Bittorrent client which has been downloaded 150 million times. Despite its origins, Fanhattan is built to please media companies and Hollywood studios as much as consumers.
Fanhattan combines a consistent, easy-to-navigate user interface with a deep database of movies and TV shows to make discovering videos from the Internet even simpler than finding them on cable TV. (Watch the demo below and my interview with CEO Gilles BianRosa). Fanhattan acquired TMDb, the Open Movie Database, which powers the search and browsing features of the service. TMDb will relaunch as Fanhattan on the Web in January, followed by Mac and PC clients. The company is in discussions with various device manufacturers and cable companies to integrate its video browsing interface in their products and services.
One of the big reasons Internet TV has been a bust so far is because it doesn’t fit squarely into any of the licensing windows the entertainment industry thrives on. Fanhattan is built around these licensing windows. When you search for a movie or TV show, it will list various places on the Internet where it can be found,ranging from free advertising-supported Websites to streaming rentals and paid downloads. Then you can choose where you want to get the video from, and watch it within Fanhattan’s consistent user interface.
The problem with Internet video, argues BianRosa, is that there are almost too many choices. You have all of these apps, but they all have their own UI, and their own search engine. If you know which movie you want to watch, you have to check half a dozen different providers.”
What TMDb provides is metadata to organize videos from across the Web. And it brings you information and trailers even if the movie just came out in theaters. For instance, let’s say you want to search for TRON Legacy. A summary of the movie would appear, along with a list of the actors and director. If you click on Jeff Bridges, then you can see his entire movie career and browse to other movies he’ starred in. Some of them might be available from Amazon or Netflix, and you can watch them if you pay. Fanhattan turns video on the Interent into a giant video-on-demand system.
You can also browse by genre, ratings, era, director or any of many other variables. TMDb is a structured database so it knows how movies are related to one another through actors, directors, and so forth. Fanhattan lets you browse along those axes with ease. Studios should love that feature because it exposes old movies from their libraries to new viewers.
Fanhattan will also manage music, photos, and other personal media, but its real sweet spot is videos. It is designed as a technology platform, however, so that other companies can build apps on top of it. A music service like Spotify, for instance, could have an app which pulled a soundtrack from a movie. For every movie, you can also imagine FanGear (T-shirts, coffee mugs, accessories) which could be purchased with one affiliate click. While the app will initially be free, Fanhattan may charge for premium versions in the future.
Earlier this month, I met with BianRosa in a New York City hotel, where he showed me a demo of the product. I shot some video with my iPhone, which I’ve embedded below. The lighting isn’t that great, but it gives you an idea of what the UI will look and feel like.
In the second video, BianRosa discusses what he is trying to accomplish with Fanhattan: