Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Warner Bros. Pulls Back the Curtain on Flixster Collections, Its Ambitious Digital Video Bet

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes spent a lot of yesterday’s earnings call discussing the company’s future in digital video. Here’s one of his focal points: Flixster Collections, a social movie portal his Warner Bros. studio is rolling out this week.

I’ve given the service — which uses the Flixster brand that Warner Bros acquired earlier this year but which the studio built on its own over the last 12 months — a quick spin. Given that it just went into public beta yesterday, there’s no way to really assess how it’s going to work. Particularly since it’s supposed to be a social experience, and if no one you know is using it, it can’t be that social.

That said, you can at least get a sense of what Warner Bros. is trying to do here, and it’s a lot: They want Flixster to serve as your starting point whenever you’re thinking about renting, buying or watching a movie, or even when you’re thinking about thinking about it.

The free service ties into users’ Amazon, Apple iTunes, Hulu and Netflix accounts — as well as your hard drive, if you let it. And it lets you and your friends see what you’ve already watched, via “collections” that get displayed as movie posters (it doesn’t seem to have hang-ups about the “Bork law” that Netflix says prevents a Facebook integration the rental service wants to launch in the U.S.). It can also direct you back to those services when you want to watch something else.

And if you’d like to see a movie that’s actually in theaters, it can help there, too, via links to movie reviews, trailers and online ticketing services. You can also imagine how this will tie in to “Ultraviolet,” the cloud/locker system for video that Warner and a big coalition of movie studios and tech companies (except for Apple and Amazon) are pushing.

Sound like a lot of … stuff? It is! And the scope of the service’s offerings, plus the fact that it requires a standalone download (for Mac and PCs only for now, though mobile apps will be coming), may be a lot for casual video fans to take in. Especially since Facebook and Twitter already do a pretty good job of letting you and your friends gab about movies — without the privacy worries of letting a service look into your Netflix queue or root around in your hard drive.

And again, since the service is really supposed to shine once you can start sharing your likes and dislikes with friends, getting enough folks to sign on might be a challenge. Still, there’s nothing wrong with trying something big and ambitious.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald