The new Web-based version of Fanhattan takes a holistic approach to movies. (Fanhattan.com )
Fanhattan, a San Mateo, Calif.-based company that makes a smart guide to movies and television shows online, took its first steps beyond the iOS universe Thursday, releasing a version of its guide for the Web. The new guide is not only available to more people, it also adds several features designed to help people find something interesting when they don't have any idea what to watch.
The company launched its app for iPads and iPhones in 2011, giving users the ability to search simultaneously through the libraries of a steadily expanding roster of sources of movies and TV shows. That's far more convenient than browsing through Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon and the like sequentially, trying to figure out which one has which content, in what format and at what price.
Fanhattan is making the Web version of the guide available on a limited basis at first, opening it only to users of its iOS app and to those who've been invited. Consider yourself invited: The company says it will grant access to the new online guide to the first 1,000 visitors who enter the activation code LATIMES.
The guide takes a holistic approach to movies, including titles in its database even before they're in theaters. The point is to let people create "WatchLists" of movies they'd like to see, then notify them when those titles reach theaters (with a link to online ticket-buying service Fandango) or become available from a download store or one of the streaming services they subscribe to.
The search results include copious information about each of the more than 1 million titles in its database -- where to watch it, a plot summary, a list of cast members and filmmakers with links to the rest of their works, reviews by critics, feedback by viewers and links to similar films or TV shows. What Fanhattan doesn't provide is a built-in video player, which sets it apart from an all-in-one service such as Burbank-based M-Go. Instead, its "Watch Now" section provides links to download stores or streaming video services, which have their own players.
The original Fanhattan was a great resource for people who knew which movies or shows to look for, but not well tuned to the task of assisting those who had nothing particular in mind. Unlike Netflix, for example, it offered no suggestions based on what the user had watched or rated.
The Web-based guide, by contrast, tackles that problem directly. The home page includes a link to a new feature, dubbed Fanhattan Voice, that Chief Executive Gilles BianRosa describes as "our take on creating a modern magazine or blog that talks about entertainment in a 360-degree way." Voice is a collection of articles about movies and TV shows, of course, written by a staff of about a dozen critics, bloggers, TV personalities and others who watch an inordinate amount of Hollywood-produced video. The most common entries are lists -- such as "85 Breakthrough Roles on the Road to Oscar" -- and interviews with actors and filmmakers.
"The vision here is not to create a competitor to Entertainment Weekly," BianRosa said. "Rather, it's essentially a destination where we're going to invite curators of very different kinds of come in and contribute."
The new version also takes the social feature of the app -- a list of movies and shows endorsed by one's Facebook friends -- and moves it to the home page. That's useful only if those Facebook friends happen to share your taste in video; mine seem drawn to graphically violent movies and left-leaning cable news shows, which is of (ahem) limited utility to me.
Finally, the home page adds a scrolling list of "trending shows," TV programs that are popular with Fanhattan users. What's interesting about this feature is that, like Fanhattan's search function, it cuts across the inventories of various online services, some of which are mutually exclusive.
The Web-based version of Fanhattan offers access to 13 more sources of video than the iOS version, and almost three times as many shows as can be watched for free -- for instance, users on a computer can stream video from Hulu, while those on an iPad have to use the fee-based Hulu Plus. But BianRosa said there's a more fundamental reason for the company to expand its presence to computers and laptops.
"When it comes to entertainment, the place and time where you discover things is different from the place and time where you watch them," BianRosa said. Much of that discovery happens when people are sitting at a computer, browsing sites or interacting with a social network. The company wanted to make it easy for people who get interested in a movie or show online to add it to their queue on Fanhattan, which could help them find it later when they have the time to watch it, BianRosa said.
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Healey writes editorials for The Times. Follow him on Twitter @jcahealey