Filmstruck is a new movie streaming service backed by Warner Bros and which recently launched in the UK in partnership with Curzon.
Available via web browsers, Apple TV, Amazon’s FireTV stick and box and iOS and Android apps, the service costs £5.99 per month with the obligatory free trial available so you can try it out and decide if it’s for you.
In return for your cash you get access to a library of around 180 movies ranging from true classics, such as the 1925 Battleship Potemkin, through to more recent titles such as Before Sunset (2004) and Cycling with Molière (2013).
In keeping with the service’s description of offering “acclaimed films, hidden gems and cult favourites,” what you don’t get are the huge libraries of modern Hollywood blockbusters offered by more established rivals.
And that’s absolutely fine – a service built around the quality of titles it’s offering rather than the volume of them will no doubt be welcomed by many film-lovers, and the commitment to update the library “every month” should ensure there’s always something new to watch.
As you’d expect with a heavily curated service, the movies are browsable not just by the usual genre categorisation but also by season / theme, with some also accompanied by bonus materials.
While it’s all looks very pretty, I’m not a fan of the service’s iPad app which inflicts an unnecessarily fussy navigation system on users: click on a genre or theme icon and you’ll find yourself within the relevant section where 80% of the screen is immediately taken up with a single image and paragraph of introductory text with the only sight of the films on offer being a small top slice of the first three titles’ individual icons.
To see more you need to either tap an icon located at the bottom quarter of the screen or drag and scroll the screen up. However – and I really disliked this – only a small grey slice of the screen located beneath the category header can actually be used to scroll upwards.
Try tapping the header section and sliding up and nothing happens.
Tap the small sliver of the individual films’ icons and slide up and, instead of the whole screen moving, the list of movies scrolls up within the same small slice of the screen so that no more than 1/3 of a film’s tile is visible at any one time.
If you’re using the browser or streaming box/stick version of the service you’ll be spared this terrible design decision but it’s difficult to understand why any service would restrict how much of the screen on a touch-enabled device can be used to scroll up and down like this and I’m afraid it’s not a decision that provides a great user experience.
Another weird decision in the iPad app’s design is defaulting the area beneath each film’s play/details screen to displaying a ‘Bonus Content’ section even when none is available.
Why not either default to the always populated ‘Related Films’ section or put the effort into coding the app properly so it only shows the ‘Bonus Content’ section where any content is actually available? Why launch a service with an app coded in such a way that it makes your service look like it’s lacking the content users are paying for?
And yes, while the iPad app isn’t the sole means of access, the lack of presence on Smart TVs and most set top boxes means it’ll be the default for many and so these issues should have been addressed before launch.
Despite these gripes, I like what Filmstruck is offering.
I think the streaming market is big enough for less mainstream services and it’s good to see films that are unlikely to ever interest Netflix or Amazon Prime Video being made available.
For those who either don’t mind watching on a mobile device, or who already have the required kit, and who are looking for a different sort of movie service, Filmstruck is well worth a try.
But to have any real chance of succeeding in a country where most viewing is still on the main TV screen, the service needs to boost its availability which means getting on the millions of Sky, Virgin Media, YouView and Freeview Play boxes already in people’s homes – what’s on offer is just too niche to get people rushing out to add an Apple TV or FireTV device to the pile of kit under their TVs.