Got Hulu and Netflix? You Need an App to Search It All
Remember when TV Guide was a channel? You’d flip to it, and carefully scan the scrolling grid of boxes, usually located underneath an obnoxious infomercial, to see what was on and where. You couldn’t click on anything, because this was the 90s, so you’d have to go back to the remote and hope you remembered the channel.
First things got better, with TiVo and the interactive guide that popped up over whatever you were watching. Then things got worse. Now we have 700 channels full of stuff to watch. More than that, we’re looking for things that aren’t on a channel at all. We’re on Netflix and Hulu, Amazon and Crackle, Showtime Go and HBO Now. We need a sortable, searchable interface for TV more than ever, but it’s not like Comcast, Time Warner, Netflix, and Amazon are coming together to help each other out and make a Streaming Guide channel. Not only is TV Guide not good enough anymore, there is no TV Guide.
But there is the App Store. (And the Play Store, and whatever the Windows one is called.) Over the last few years, plenty of developers have tried to create exactly the product the cord-cutting crew needs. They’ve only gotten better, too: Thanks to deep-linking, some apps let you press play and be taken not just to the right app or page, but straight to the show or movie itself. With Chromecast or Airplay, you can use the app as a full-fledged remote control. And, mercifully, there are finally a couple that aren’t hideously ugly.
There are two of these Streaming Guide apps worth downloading. There are many more in the stores, like BuddyTV and MovieLaLa (which wins for best name) and NextGuide and CanIStream.It. They have their merits (particularly NextGuide, which is amazingly powerful and terribly confusing to use). Between them, they have almost a perfect setup: part social network, part universal remote, part TV Guide. But right now there are only two that might actually warrant a spot on your homescreen: Fan.TV and the Yahoo Video Guide.
The two apps have a lot of things in common. They’re both incredibly thoughtfully designed, heavy on the cover art, and light on anything that isn’t relevant information. They both surface Rotten Tomatoes reviews, along with information about cast and plot. You can choose which services they search, so you’re not pressing Play then immediately getting shut down because you don’t pay for Showtime. Fan.TV (for iOS and Android) and Yahoo Video Guide (also iOS and Android) are both good for browsing through new and popular stuff, or for searching if you know what you’re looking for. The single worst thing about the streaming era is knowing what you want to watch, and not knowing where it is. Both apps solve that.
Yahoo Video Guide’s most fun unique feature is its Mood Picker. You pick a GIF from a set (“I’m feeling more ‘Fiery Dinosaur Burns Everything’ than ‘Hand Brushing Library Books’ tonight”) and the app picks a bunch of things you might like. You can pick a couple, even: Go with “Tense” and “Informed” and you’ll be offered a lot of documentaries and action movies starring the Rock. Star a movie or show, and Yahoo adds it to a list of things you want to watch later. The whole experience is simple and clean in exactly the way your average TV Guide isn’t.
Fan.TV integrates linear TV listings next to the streaming stuff, which is handy. Its whole approach is also slightly more editorial than Yahoo’s. When you load the app, you get a bunch of lists of things you might want to watch, like “Spring Movies” and “Marathon Worthy.” The app’s a little more cluttered, which is good and bad. Good: You can watch trailers within the app with one tap. Bad: What the hell does the eye icon mean and how is it different from the plus icon, which opens a menu that lets me add things to a list with an eye icon?
Fan.TV puts soundtracks, behind-the-scenes shots, and more on every page, which is useful but a little overwhelming compared to Yahoo’s giant-ass play button. It also integrates with more services than Yahoo (but still not YouTube; lame). Yahoo’s after the average sort of streaming user, who subscribes to a couple of services, but if you’ve entered your cable credentials 37 different times on your phone, you’ll probably want Fan.TV.
Whichever you pick, a Streaming Guide app is worth making room for on your homescreen. It’s so much better than opening Netflix to see what’s on, then opening Hulu to see what’s on, then repeating with everything else in the folder you’ve named “Entertainment.” The apps will help you find stuff to watch, keep you up to date on the best new shows and movies, and keep you from aimlessly browsing your queue instead of actually watching something. Universal search isn’t perfect yet, but it’s good enough that you should be using it all the time. Tack on a $35 Chromecast and suddenly your universal-remote situation just got a serious upgrade.