We’ve all been there. It’s a Friday evening (or, let’s be honest, literally any time of the week) and you sit down with your family/ significant other/ friends/ pets/ personal demons and decide to catch a new film or TV show on Netflix. Only…it’s not just Netflix anymore is it? There’s also Amazon, Hulu, Vudu, Now TV, HBO Go, and catch-up TV services like iPlayer, 4OD and ALL OF THE OTHERS. You’re in the mood for a gritty drama but your partner wants an easy-going comedy while your cat insists on a hard-hitting documentary. So begins the longest 90 minutes of your life where you trawl through page after page of bogus recommendations across increasingly obscure genre categories, steadily losing all hope of seeing the light of day again, watching in slow-motion dread as the fabric of reality begins to unwind and reconstitute itself into a living, breathing, scrolling – ever scrolling – torrent of nonsense titles, like the Matrix of mediocrity, a promise that this is what life is now, no closure, no satisfaction, just endless frustration and resentment tempered by the eternal guilt of “first world problems.”
We’ve long felt like there’s a gap in the Internet marketplace for a one-stop-shop sort of service, one safe little corner of the dark and dangerous labyrinth of streaming services that cuts through the mind-numbing noise of everything on offer and gives it to us straight: “You like this thing? What this thing.”
FilmFish is a new online film and TV database that operates using “a proprietary machine learning algorithm that turbocharges human curation to make over a million high quality movie and TV recommendations.” In normal human words: it aims to take the stress and confusion out of finding new stuff to watch.
It’s deceptively and refreshingly straightforward: you search titles of films/ TV programs you like and get given a list of similar titles, a direct link to a trailer of each option, a star rating (from IMDb), and the option to add suggested titles to watch lists that save to your account. Most usefully, you’re given links to every platform the title is available on so there’s no faffing around finding anything afterwards, just click and watch (if you have the right subscription obviously).
You can also filter by your subscriptions and, frankly, seeing the logos for Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, HBO Go, and others all lined up in a row makes it crystal clear just how overblown the SVOD market has become. Remember when streaming services were meant to be the cheaper, easier, more convenient alternative to traditional TV and cable packages? Yeah, us neither.
It’s setting out to change how we consume media and, in its newest incarnation, has set itself the task of putting the final sheen on the golden age of television. So to find out a little more put a few questions to Phillip Scull, co-founder of all things FilmFish.
So, first things first, we have to ask: where did the name FilmFish come from? Hitchhikers Guide reference?
Single largest determining factor in a start-up’s success… alliteration.
The frustration over Netflix’s recommendations is pretty much a universal grievance at this point – did this play a part in the creation of FilmFish? Where did the idea come from?
Absolutely. For a while now, the opener to our pitch has been ‘Netflix’s recommendations suck’. Every single time I say it – and I say it a lot – people nod in agreement. Watching TV is relaxing. Finding what to watch should be too.
The initial idea came from a business plan competition, in which we experimented with curated art recommendations. We were beating out large corporations’ recommendation algorithms, and thought there’s something here.
The idea’s evolved, but the attitude of just because a company’s big doesn’t mean they’re always going to be competent remains.
Netflix bases its recommendations on your viewing history but FilmFish seems to depend on searches and curated lists – how does that work exactly? What makes it better than all of the rest?
The issue with giving people recommendations based on their viewing history is that you’re treating their taste as static. On Wednesday all I’m after is guns, explosions, and car chases. But on Friday I’m looking for something that’s going to pull at the heartstrings. I’ve seen a ton of instances where the same person will love two polar opposite movies or series.
What’s nice about our method is when you put in a search – say ‘Inglorious Basterds’ vs. ‘The Notebook’ – you’re giving us a concrete handle on the type of thing you want to watch, not in the abstract, but right now.
As for the recommendations themselves, we pride ourselves on combining cutting edge tech with expert curation. Nobody’s doing that right now. We have thousands of categories that aim to capture exactly what users are looking for: ‘If Stephen King Wrote TV’, ‘Shows for Mad Scientists’, ‘Disney Channel Girl-World’, etc. We then combine this human insight with machine learning, to give users genuinely similar suggestions, along with where they can stream what they find. What to watch and where.
The last part is important because increasing numbers of people have multiple numbers of subscriptions these days; I have Hulu, Netflix, HBO, Prime, and Starz – that I know of.
Netflix in particular has come under fire for buying up a huge amount of content, particularly indie films out of festivals, and then burying them where they can’t be found on their platform. Was this something you had in mind when you created FilmFish?
Absolutely. A big part of FilmFish’s value proposition is that it opens up the long tail. The way things are structured now, on most services you’re hit with big, recent blockbusters – which may, or may not, be up your street. Our database houses the outer reaches of indie, foreign, classic, you name it – and more importantly, makes those gems discoverable.
Where do you stand on the “SVOD platforms are killing/ saving the film industry” debate?
I’m not a huge fan of superhero sequels, and I thought Okja was awesome, so I lean towards saving.
Where do you see FilmFish going from here? We’ve always been on the lookout for a “Where can I find BLANK?” sort of service – care to solve that problem for us?
Well right now, you can plug in your streaming services on FilmFish, and filter recommendations by availability.The next step from here, I think, is smart TV integration. Being able to search FilmFish with voice would be huge.
Finally, we imagine you must be a bit of a cinephile, care to share your 3 favourite female filmmakers with us?
If I wasn’t when I started, I sure am now.
Top 3 for me are:
- Liza Johnson. She was actually one of my professors in college – everyone loved her. You have to check out Elvis & Nixon, if you haven’t already.
- Sofia Coppola, for ‘The Bling Ring’
- Kathryn Bigelow, for ‘Hurt Locker’
You can use FilmFish online and also via its iOS app.