This article was originally posted on the Tech North website.
With an ever-expanding number of online streaming services available – from Amazon Video to Netflix – film fans are spoilt for choice. Filmies is a smartphone app that aims to help you find something you want to watch faster, learning about your viewing habits over time.
The Leeds-based startup behind it took to university campuses to research just how much time people waste picking a film. The answer? Twenty-two minutes, which over the course of the year would allow the “average film fan” to sit through every Tarantino feature film three times in a year, the company says.
CEO Neil McClure believes that Filmies has more powerful search functionality than today’s streaming services due to its partnership with the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), and community-driven tagging system.
Filmies closed a pre-seed funding round on Seedrs in 2016, raising just under £20,000 to develop a beta version of the app while providing a modest marketing budget. The startup is now focusing on growing its user base and testing marketing assumptions while preparing for a seed round later this year.
We spoke to McClure to find out more.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Neil McClure: Filmies is a utility for film fans who, like me, watch a lot of films but can’t decide what to watch. Going back to before the days of online streaming providers, deciding what films to watch used to be easy because we’d pick a DVD out of our cupboard, visiting HMV on a weekend to expand our collections.
Today, the internet gives us thousands of films to watch at the touch of a button, so making that decision gets harder. In the UK alone every year there’s 3 billion minutes spent choosing what to watch – that’s what we’re going after – that wasted time searching around which is very frustrating.
What do people think to your mission?
We’ve really managed to refine and define the very relatable ‘first-world problem’ that we’re trying to solve. We’re not trying to cure world peace – we’re trying to help people watch more films, which is inherently an entertainment thing – but we do save people time. That’s incredibly important.
“We’re not trying to cure world peace – we’re trying to help people watch more films, which is inherently an entertainment thing – but we do save people time. That’s incredibly important.”
How does choosing a film work?
We have a database of film data which comes from IMDB, then we overlay that with our own tag database. We’ve seeded Filmies by tagging a few thousand films, and our users build on top of that. It’s all gamified, so if you tag films then you earn Filmies points.
There are two elements to the app itself – one is situational tag search using our tag database to find films, and the second is seeing recommendations from friends. Firstly, you pick keywords tags which include things like genre; mood; actor; director and characteristics. For example, I like films with a twist ending, so I could pick that. If you like Neo-Noir 1920s dramas set in Boston, you can select those tags, being as general or specific as you want.
After you’ve selected some descriptive tags you’re served recommendations that you can swipe to see films, which are prioritised on suggestions from people you know and trust. If you don’t have any friends within Filmies then the recommendations will be based on picks from our wider film audience.
Where is the film content hosted?
We don’t host films ourselves – we recommend you to partners including Amazon, Netflix and iTunes, with more platforms coming in the future. We also want to work with cinema chains soon, recommending nearby showings and providing a gateway to booking tickets.
Is that part of your monetisation strategy?
Yes – we’ll refer users to a cinema chain, Amazon, iTunes or wherever, then we’ll get a cut of that referred sale. Another challenge we’ve identified in our early engagement – particularly with the film-making community – is that they struggle to find an audience for their films; particularly so for that kind of micro-funded and independent cinema that really struggles to get distributors, marketing plans and see their films out there.
It’s backbreaking – once the film is out there they have to hope and pray that the distributor picks it up. That’s why we think there’s an opportunity for an online platform that hosts these films, which could form part of our monetisation strategy.
How is your database more comprehensive than similar services?
We want to ensure we’re not just building another algorithm like Netflix as many of our users tell us those algorithms are easily skewed. We try to encourage situation-based search. I’ll give you an example – if it’s a Friday night, I’m with my wife and we watch a certain type of film – such as a romantic comedy – that might not necessarily mean it’s what I want to watch on a Sunday afternoon when I’m in on my own. We’ve built Filmies with a machine learning element – it gets to learn more about you and your film tastes and the tags you select, using that to improve the service you receive.
How will you evolve Filmies to more accurately make suggestions?
We’re looking at trialling an AI bot – we think there’s a potential use case for embedding one into Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, iMessage and other chatbot services. We think that could be neat for easily inputting tags and then being served recommendations within that service, rather than putting up the obstacle of downloading our app. That leads us into voice services – so how we can integrate that into Alexa and other devices in the home.
What’s on the horizon for Filmies?
We’re launching a competition to win a year’s free cinema, so anybody who downloads the app and registers will enter a draw. We’re also refining some of our social media images and some of the stuff we’ll be promoting on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. After that we’re launching a new version and looking into raising a seed round.
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