Monday, 13 June 2011

Thoughts on Lovefilm

I'm a fan of Lovefilm. I've been a subscriber for many years (since 2004) and have persuaded quite a few friends to sign up after hearing me extol the virtues of the service. I am what you might call a Lovefilm advocate, someone who likes the service so much that I want others to try it too. But it seems to me that Lovefilm is missing a trick or two, so here's some thoughts on what it could do better, for me.

Firstly, Lovefilm knows me and my family's viewing habits and predilections intimately. It knows every film we have ever rented (approaching 500 now), every film we have rated, every film we want to watch in the future. It basically knows more about our views on films than we do ourselves. Why then, when I visit, does it constantly suggest a whole bunch of films that it knows I have no interest in whatsoever? Why does it recommend films on it's homepage that I have in fact already watched? Why does it still offer me games when we have never rented a game?

Basically Lovefilm needs to get its recommendation engine tuned up, so that it offers me truly personal recommendations based on the information it already has about me. I want recommendations from people I know and especially people I trust to have good judgement on films, be that a professional film critic or a friend. Lovefilm should be a totally personal service, helping me filter the huge number of films available to watch, old and new, and quickly get me to what I'll most likely want to watch. I really shouldn't have to scroll through a long list of new releases every few weeks to find something I want to add to my wish list.
Secondly, online streaming. Clearly, the future for home consumption of films is less about DVDs through the post and more about streaming to a connected device, whether that is a big screen (TV) or a smaller one (smartphone, tablet), but right now that feels like an after-thought for Lovefilm. The catalogue available to stream feels pretty thin (about 6000 items), and the whole emphasis of the site is still aimed at DVD rental. Now, I'm sure the usage figures mean that physical product still has to remain the top priority to keep the majority of users happy, but they need to start making the online viewing offer more attractive. For example, right now they don't offer an online-only package; the cheapest unlimited online viewing package comes in at a hefty £10 per month and includes a DVD allowance. Shouldn't they be offering a low-cost online viewing package to tempt me to move from DVD to online viewing? Of course, I'm not going to do that until the catalogue is deep enough, but the right subscription will still be needed.

Thirdly, mobile. OK, I'm sure the good folks at Lovefilm are working on this, but shouldn't I get a great experience on my smartphone as well as via snail mail DVDs? The iPhone app lets me manage my account, to add or remove films from my wish list and see new releases. But I can't watch anything on it, and if you browse to you get the desktop site which is unusable. Really unusable. Why no mobile browser site? I'd be quite happy to watch some content, particularly TV episodes as opposed to full length films, on a smartphone or tablet.

Lastly, Lovefilm social. Yes there are Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and YouTube channels, but none of it is personal to me. If I want to engage with a service like Lovefilm in my social spaces, it really has to be personalised to me, not promo or marketing material pumped into my streams. I'd be happy to be alerted to content that Lovefilm knows I'll be interested in, but that means applying that personalised recommendation engine to social updates.

As I said at the start, I'm a Lovefilm fan. But if Blinkbox or Netflix (if they launch in the UK) offer me a better, more personalised service, I'll transfer my allegiances. Which would be a pity.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Leaving BBC Audio & Music Interactive

After quite a few years in the interactive wing of BBC Audio & Music, creating and maintaining digital products and services for the BBC's national radio stations and music output, I'm moving on. It's been a truly exciting, and sometimes frustrating journey, with the department growing from a tiny handful of people in '99 to over a hundred people (technical and editorial combined) at it's peak.

There have been many highlights for me, but here are just a few. In the early days it was working with Hugh Garry and Helen Pendlebury at Radio 1, making it up as we went along but seeing the huge potential of combining linear media with the web; covering big events such as Glastonbury and Big Weekend (or One Big Sunday as it was then), and introducing live streaming and incoming SMS to network radio.

In the middle period my main memories are of developing the idea for the original BBC Radio Player (offering on-demand and live radio) then actually making it happen with Dan Taylor 6 years before iPlayer; working with Simon Nelson, Simon Hopkins, Dan Hill, Gill Weekes and Ayesha Mohideen during an incredibly intense period of development of  BBC online; launching 5 new digital radio stations across DAB, web and DTV; being exposed to the innovative thinking of Tom CoatesMatt Webb and Paul Hammond; appointing Dan Heaf then seeing him do great things at Radio 1, and helping Justin Spooner do creative work at Radio 3.

In more recent years it was working with Matthew Shorter and Tom Scott on the strategy and plan for digital music at the BBC, then seeing further big chunks of that delivered with Andy Puleston, Matt Coulson and Ant Smith; making the BBC's podcast service happen with Sarah Prag, building the music events strategy and delivering it with Andrew Barron and later Tim Clarke; working with Ben Chapman, Chris Johnson, Huey and Sam Bailey to grow the Radio 1 site to be the most popular radio site in the UK and probably anywhere; learning about the mobile opportunity with James Simcock, getting Now Playing @6music commissioned, and lastly working with John Moran and Peter Bradbury to get the rights to allow us to do much of the above.

This is just a snapshot, it's not meant to be comprehensive. It is, of course, all about the people you work with, and I've been lucky enough to work with some amazing talent and made some great friends. If I could change one thing, it would be to have argued even more strongly for audience needs over organisational priorities. Not always easy to do in a large fairly political organisation, especially one which has such a long history of traditional linear media brands.

For now though, it's time to move on to work in a different environment. More on that soon(*).

* i.e. when I know!