I need to confess, before I signed up for FilmStruck I already had it in my head the kind of glowing review I was going to write. I was going to talk about how FilmStruck was going to run away with a bunch of Netflix customers, but then I created an account. I used my computer and while it wasn’t a horrible experience I did take note of the bulky join flow they had.
“That’s ok,” I told myself. “It’s just a join flow. Not everyone’s spent years optimizing those like me!” The selection was fantastic. Unlike Netflix, Amazon, HBO Now, and Hoopla I wasn’t sitting there trying to find something tolerable to watch. I gleefully added film after film to my watch list. I signed up for the yearly plan so I needed to make sure I had a nice big queue waiting for me!
Once I felt like I had a good lineup I decided I’d curl up in bed with my phone and watch some of these movies. I’ve got an iPhone so I went to the app store and started the download. I started to get a little nervous when I saw the reviews though. Two out of five stars is…really low. It couldn’t be that bad though right? I scrolled through and most of the complaints seemed to center around no airplay feature. OK, that I can deal with. Some people mentioned crashing, having to reinstall the app, and some similar issues, but I figured that couldn’t be the majority so I kept moving forward.
I logged into the app just fine, picked out my movie and…no sound. I thought perhaps it was just a bug with that movie, but as I went through both the Criterion Collection and TCM’s films I realized, it was all the videos. I even tried to switch over to my iPad, but no dice. The app ran even worse on tablet and crashed the seven or so times I tried to get something playing.
I was a bit deflated as I continued to navigate the streaming service’s interface I lost track of how many UX mistakes were being made. Any other video streaming service would KILL to get their hands on content this good, and yet I feel like FilmStruck is determined to disappoint. If you don’t have a clue about who I am or what FilmStuck is I’ll quickly fill you in. (If you already know, sit tight.) I spend a few years managing a team of marketers, designers, and developers to sell a subscription video service and we were one of the first to successfully break into the mobile market. I can confidently say I know what works when it comes to video streaming services. FilmStruck is Turner Classic Movie’s response to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the rest of the world. They decided instead of licensing their content through these third party services they would rather directly capture the value of their customers. Fantastic idea! Expect they’ve failed almost completely.
I wanted to write a message to someone working on FilmStruck who would understand the weight of the free advice I was going to hand out so I headed over to LinkedIn. Unfortunately, this is where I got truly sour toward FilmStruck. As I scrolled through I saw nearly two dozen people listed as managers, freelance writers, and directors of something important working at FilmStruck. You can probably see where I’m headed…I decided to take a peek at just what jobs FilmStruck is hiring for. With all of these development bugs, certainly they must be looking to hire a swarm of developers! Nope. They did have some more positions for FilmStruck, but they were centered around data analysis.
There are a few reasons why this made me particularly upset. It suggests that FilmStuck is contracting out their development, and not even to a good development team. There are literally hundreds of companies who already have proven video streaming white labels (a skin so you can brand your content with their tech to offer a streaming video service) and FilmStruck could have used ANY of them for likely a fraction of the cost this custom-built turd is costing them.
My second reason for being upset with FilmStruck is that they are hiring data analysis positions which wouldn’t be necessary if they had a good development team making their platform in the first place! A smart development team would have made a custom algorithm to recommend films, they would have built in tracking to understand what users are doing, and they would have made reports so that any person at any level of the organization could understand FilmStuck customers. We did this where I worked and we had a much smaller team than these guys.
Lastly, they just released an Apple TV app. WHY?! I know maybe one or two people who have an Apple TV and they probably don’t fall into the FilmStruck demographic. Why didn’t they spend some time fixing their existing Apple apps instead of releasing a third, probably broken, app? I would imagine that the people who would be interested in FilmStruck are highly-educated, older, probably in a high income bracket…and you know what kind of devices those people tend to have? (Spoiler, according to Forbes it’s an iPhone.) I can only imagine why this didn’t come up in a meeting, or if it did why nothing was done about it!
I rarely write anything negative on my blog, (feel free to scroll back and look if you don’t believe me) so you have to understand just how insanely disappointed I am by FilmStruck to make such a long rant. Maybe FilmStruck has “too many cooks in the kitchen” or perhaps their company culture is accepting of low-quality work, but I can see by the app reviews that I’m not the only one who was letdown by the release of FilmStruck. Perhaps it will get better over time, but I don’t think I’ll be able to support their product as it is now.