Commentary

Oh, Jeeves

My bookmarks runneth over. As I was training my way back from the FTC's "Beyond Voice" workshops on mobile (more on this next week), I noticed how full my phone browser bookmarks had become in recent weeks with new material. Somebody at the major media companies has drunk a gallon of mobile Kool-Aid, because the torrent of mobilized brands is relentless now. I will save the best of the content providers for columns next week, but for now I am focusing on retailers who went mobile with good intentions and mixed results.

CinemaNow is the film download and rental service that has been online for eons waiting for consumers to get used to the idea of watching movies on their laptops. Apple's move into the market, and with it new licensing policies from the major studio, accelerated the model earlier this year. CinemaNow has a downloadable player that manages the licensing rights and playback of films. The new CinemaNow mobile site is designed to work in concert with this media manager so that you can browse, preview and purchase films on the phone and have them arrive at your desktop or laptop automatically. For a total media slut like myself, this is the kind of cross-platform connectivity I have been waiting for. Alas. I am still waiting.

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The site itself is workmanlike, with a lot of text driving users into the catalog for browsing titles by genre, etc. As I am starting to find on a lot of mobile apps lately, the search engine was dodgy, sometimes returning no results on obvious queries. The good thing about CinemaNow's site is the catalog, however. Each film listing gets an attractive poster art thumbnail and an option to stream the low-res or higher-res trailer. The site plays well into the "triage" function of mobile. As we see in dating sites, the mobile handset invites quick filtering. At communities like Crush or Flush, a typical visitor burns through 100 page views just scanning profiles. Likewise, a good retail product catalog on mobile should allow for thumbing. CinemaNow doesn't allow this, but it would be handy to drop into a product category like "most popular films" and be able to move laterally from one item to the next rather than having to bounce back up the navigation tree to the directory.

What doesn't work (or didn't work for me on repeated attempts) was getting the mobile site to send the chosen movie to my Media Manager on the laptop. The process kept failing and alternately telling me to activate my laptop's CinemaNow Media Manager or get the software (which I already had). By design, the mobile ordering system is supposed to recognize that I might have Media Manager installed on different machines -- and if all went well, it should ask me where I want my rental or purchase sent.

If I can get the CinemaNow mobile store to work as promised, I get that much closer to the seamless media consumption experience the geek gods intended me to have all along. I want to flip my phone in a waiting room or during banal conference sessions and browse the newest movie titles for rent. Then I want to purchase a rental and have it show up on my TV set top box, laptop, iPod, or Apple TV later. I use the phone to browse and sample. I use the first and second screens to consume. And I shouldn't have to "sideload" or "synch" anything -- ever.

This is the mobile platform working as a kind of concierge to my other, richer media experience. This is not trying to get me to change my media consumption habits to fit the business needs of media companies or their advertisers. This is not trying to sell me the same media brands twice. This is just imagining the mobile platform as a real tool that services and streamlines a browse and rent process I already perform elsewhere. For a lot of things in my life, I don't' need another screen. I need a butler.

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