7. December 2011–
The task of finding one night's movie from the host of available content-providing, directing and aggregating websites is a sort of technophilic mating ritual. Screen-lit and grueling. But if you can navigate your way through all the vampires, ads, and excessive Hulu hooping—consulting the proverbial critics, watching the necessary trailers, and making sure you can’t get it for cheaper on iTunes—you might just secure that one (perfect) Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. Or you might just give up and go to bed.
Here to make your search for prime online video content a little, well, friendlier is Tweek.tv—a new iPad app aiming to put all the rest stops under one roof. It's fueled by the simple, potentially conflicted principle that you will like what your “friends” “like.” Ditching traditional algorithm-based theorems for a social recommendation service, Tweek gives you TV shows (and movies) that a lot of your friends “like” on Facebook. Period. How will they make profit? Lead generation. Every time you reach a licensed video provider through Tweek.tv, they get a share. Simple.
Connecting Content Islands: What’s Unique
Because they’re not categorizing content by theme, mood, or genre, you’ll need to be open (Aunt Dooney’s watching The Jersey Shore? Rock on. That super cool guy you only met once at LeWeb just liked Spider-Man 3? Lame). On the bright side, because Tweek's not licensing its own content, you won’t be turned away when you try and search for a particular title. This is key.
Although the monoliths—Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes—may cast a different impression, you can only actually find 4% of top 500 movies titles on all three. The remainder are dispersed across "content islands," license providers often difficult to find and locate on the Internet. Right now, there's no social media link connecting them. No way for you to tell which of your friends are watching what (regardless of the inevitable variety of where).
Excluding torrents (damn), Tweek is getting together all the diversified (legitimate) sources so you don’t have to go anywhere else to find titles you want. It's putting frustrating nights surfing the web behind us.
My Private App Demo with Founder Marcel Duee
When I stopped by the Tweek TV office yesterday to demo the app, I instantly fell in love with the product. The design is svelte. The user interface (aside from a few preliminary glitches) is clean and intuitive. As a movie buff, flipping through a kind of cinematic Facebook feed felt good. Aside from that, the team behind it is passionate, practical and well-funded (They’ve recently closed a funding round with BMP and Catagonia.) I want to love it. But then, a fundamental question comes up.
Do I really want to watch what my "friends" "like" on Facebook?
At every point on the social recommendation vertical—particularly when a service has to account for the diversity of a place like Facebook—the question arises. I wouldn’t watch a movie with half my Facebook friends, even if I didn’t have to sit next to them. Do I really want to watch what they’re watching? It depends.
There’s Ned Jones—who I remember as the toga-wearing, beer-guzzling philosophy major friend from university—who Tweek tells me likes “Out of Africa.” Then there’s Sophia Golvach, a good friend whose friendship has contracted to a series of ever-prompted pokes—who is apparently watching Volver. In her case, I’ll admit, I got the itch to comment (“Sophs, That scene where…) But Tweek won’t let me. Not yet. But it’s promising. Especially with a few (dare I say) tweeks.
Check out my long and high entertaining interview with founder (one of three) Marcel Duee below!
VV: What question annoys you?
Tweek: What are your top 5 favorite movies. I hate that question. Every time you ask someone that it’s: The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction….” It ends up being really indescript.
VV: How is your product changing that question?
Tweek: Well, with a discovery service like Tweek, the results are always on the side of the road. You get one friend who’s into Japanese comic movies. If you ask a recommendation algorithm, it's always the middle of the road results. Stuff you know everyone likes, because they’ve appeared on top best films of all times lists since the time we could write. We’re sticking with the serendipitious way of coming to a film.
VV: Why are you launching on the iPad only?
Tweek: For now, it fits best with our usage profile. It’s a sort of “happy hour” entertainment platform. It’s what you’ll use when you get back from work, take off your shoes, and jump into bed. The iPad made the most sense for this viewing mode.
VV: What were you and your co-founders doing before you started Tweek?
Tweek: Sven [Koerbitz] and I worked for Christophe Maire beginning in 2005 at Gate5, (considered by some to be “Berlin’s first start-up.” ) The three of us went on to work at Nokia together. That's when we got talking about watching TV and why it sucked.
VV: What’s one idea that inspired Tweek's early days?
Tweek: A couple months ago in London, I heard (Facebook's Head of Business Development) Christian Hernandez say, “The thing I’m dying to make social is the EPG.” That really hit home.
VV: Your product sounds like it’s actually filling a gap. Where’s your competition coming from?
Tweek: The U.S., almost entirely. Matcha.tv. Fanhattan. Clicker’s big for us (They sold to CBS back in March). But they’re performing a different function. They’re facilitating interaction while you watch TV. From our perspective, we don’t need a new place to chat.
VV: Arguable. I’d like to have a little Facebook box open up to be able to share and comment. Just saying.
Tweek: We’re considering it.
VV: If your “friends” are anything like my “friends,” some of them have pretty lousy taste, and half of them aren't your friends anyway. Wouldn't I rather watch what my old film professors watch? Or at least be able to exclude everyone from "Bullyshittin buddies" (this really annoying Facebook group I couldn't get out of, for some reason…)
Tweek: Well, if you don't like certain 'friends' or tend to dislike their movie preferences- you can 'mute' them" so you won't receive their feeds. You can also add an actor or a celebrity you like. We’re considering a feature where you can exclude groups, but it’s not in our immediate vision.
VV: What is TV in the future?
Tweek: For one thing, it's not a device. It's a lean-back consumption of high-end content. It doesn't matter what device it takes place on. It's a consumption mode. It's on the best device available.
VV: What is one huge problem facing TV that Tweek isn’t addressing?
Tweek: Licensing jurisdiction. I’ll give you an example. Right now in Germany, most people watch football using Sky. The problem? They dont have an iPhone app. They don't have rights to distribute mobilely (Deutsche Telekom does), so the second you leave your living room, you dont have a way to watch football. How will I work to eliminate this? Maybe in the next company.
VV: What other player in the online video industry would you cheers to?
Tweek: Netflix. They have a fierce recommendation algorithm. And they're always working on making it better. (In 2006, they offered a $1,000,000 prize to the first developer of a video recommendation algorithm that could predict ratings 10% better than the current Netflix algorithm at the time, Cinematch.)
VV: What did you just say about Reed Hastings?
Tweek: At the last F8 conference, Hastings (Netflix CEO) showed data from their integration of social data points. What they found is social recommendation provided far more relevant results than the algorithm could ever get.
VV: What was the pitch like that prompted the recent funding (announced yesterday)?
Tweek: Late in the summer, BMP stopped by to talk. We were all sitting outside the office, drinking Club Mates and bouncing ideas around. It was a good vibe. (For the Catagonia investment, the Tweekers got in touch with Ralph Eric Kunz, CEO and mentor of the Tweek team since their Nokia days.)
VV: What’s the worst thing about the German press?
Tweek: Sometimes, all they want to hear about is the money. I find that American journalists ask more about the product itself. [I laugh.]
VV: Where did you get these macaroons? They’re amazing.
Tweek: Butter Lindner, down the block.
VV: A woman I met through AirB&B once asked me within 20 minutes of meeting, ‘What do you want?’ I’ll never forget it. So, Marcel Duee, what do you want?
Tweek: Well, Ms. Imbert, right now we’re looking for a new office (He shows me the pictures on his iPhone.) And also, we’d prefer to share the space with another company, so I’m technically looking for one of those too.