Latest posts

When I drove past a billboard earlier this week that promised me a new universe of streaming media, I nearly pulled over to the side of the road so that I could try it. Right. Now. Was this the day I’d been waiting for? The day when I’d finally experience the joy of unlimited TV, packaged in a decent online interface?

This reaction won’t make a lot of sense to my American friends, who live in a competitive paradise of free and low-cost options for on-demand TV and movies.  Up here, north of the 49th parallel, we still mostly have to carve our TV shows frame-by-fame onto hunks of ice, which we then push into the ocean until they’re floating fast enough to approximate a really cold flipbook version of Grey’s Anatomy.

You see, the hassle of sorting out IP rights for the handful of people who live up here just doesn’t make the effort worthwhile. So while we finally have Netflix and iTunes, they both offer fewer titles than their American counterparts. And the joys of Hulu, Amazon streaming and US broadcaster apps (like NBC’s iPad app) aren’t available at all, unless you use a proxy server that convinces the interwebs that you’re actually in America.

Thus my excitement about shomi: a made-in-Canada streaming service that I’d hope would replace my homebrewed version of on-demand TV. Something about the all-lowercase brand name and the ultra-minimalist billboard just gave me the sense that somewhere in the shomi HQ lurked a techno-hipster with dreams of user experience greatness.

And user experience has long been the primary driver behind my approach to media consumption on this side of the border.  Thanks to Plex,  the application we use to organize, view and stream our media files on our awesome home media server, we have a media system that addresses virtually everything that drives me crazy about the user experience offered by a PVR.

You mean that just because I taped in upstairs, I can’t watch it downstairs? (Yes, I know, there are devices that can now solve this problem….but Plex solved it for me five years ago!) You mean that just because I didn’t remember to tape it, I can’t watch it?  You mean that even if I don’t know which Canadian network carries the show my American friends are talking about it, I can still watch it? You mean that anytime I want to watch something, I have to look at your butt-ugly interface, which may or may not offer me a teaser of the episode, doesn’t play the show’s theme music while I’m scanning for the latest episode (gosh, I do love that about Plex) and can’t hold every single episode of every TV show I’ve ever watched, just in case the world ends and I need to trade TV shows for food?

These are the user experience problems our home media server solves. But that solution comes at a price: while I do love my Plex-based home media setup, I’m feeling increasingly worn down by the maintenance.  If I’m not working around the prolonged outage on our favorite torrenting service, I’m troubleshooting the disappearance of subtitles from Borgen; if I’m not fixing the mysterious sound problems on the computer hooked up to our bedroom TV, I’m re-installing our proxy software so I can watch the latest season of Amazon’s Alpha House.  No wonder we’re only one episode into the latest season of Homeland: for the past couple of months, I’ve spent an hour on video troubleshooting for every hour I spend actually watching TV.

Along with the maintenance burden, our home media server poses another problem: guilt. I know Shonda Rhimes and Joss Whedon are  probably doing OK, but my religious torrenting of all their shows doesn’t count for much when they’re trying to convince a broadcast exec to greenlight their plan for a new program in which an army of time-traveling African-American lady clones use their scientific know-how and seductive looks to take down an interplanetary conspiracy. We do our part to keep Shonda and Joss in business by paying for a premium cable package, even though we watch virtually all our TV shows on our DIY server; I feel better about choosing my own media consumption interface when I know we’re paying for almost all of that content through our cable bill. But I’m not sure Shonda and Joss would agree.

Shomi suggested it might solve my guilt and maintenance issues without sacrificing user experience. After all, it offers streaming, on-demand content, available via web, mobile device or even (getting crazy here) our cable box. And my first browse through the interface looked promising: I like the ability to tell shomi what kinds of programs I enjoy, the option to customize for different family members, the snappy search functionality and the jitter-free streaming. And I love the fact that their terms of service link is labeled “The Lawyers Made Us Do It”.

shomiThere’s only one tiny problem: it turns out user experience isn’t just about the interface. It’s also about the content. And here, as with so many other Canadian services, shomi falls way short. No Grey’s Anatomy. No Good Wife. No How to Get Away with Murder. No Nashville, no Flash, no Mindy Project, no Brooklyn Nine-Nine, no Mythbusters.  Yes, it’s got Scandal, The Americans, Modern Family and Homeland — but only older seasons, not the current one. And we haven’t even gotten to our weird niche commitments: Sherlock, Borgen, Covert Affairs or Episodes.

I don’t blame shomi for these shortcomings: they’re no more limited than any other Canadian viewing option, and I suspect some of the shows on our must list aren’t even broadcast in Canada. But that’s the joy of living in the Internet era: if you’re willing to put up with a little bit of maintenance, and a little bit of guilt, your media habits no longer have to be limited by your national borders. In a world in which the good good media goodness of American media is just a proxy server away, a successful media service needs to be more than just a pretty interface.


{ 1 comment }

First posted on November 13,2014

What’s wrong with the Ello backlash

September 26, 2014

My latest blog post for the Harvard Business Review argues that Ello — the “it” social network of the week — is a wake-up call for businesses to re-assess their social media strategy in light of growing public concerns about privacy and ad targeting. But what about the users themselves? How are they responding to [...]

Read more →

11 best practices for working with an editor

September 12, 2014

My latest blog post for the Harvard Business Review makes the case for adding an editor to your content marketing team. As I note in that post, Content marketing will only deliver on its promise if it’s good enough to deliver customers–that’s why improving the quality of content marketing is critical to business. But creating [...]

Read more →

Homeschooling as a working mom: the pie chart

September 9, 2014

It’s week two of the school year — or it would be, if we weren’t in the middle of an increasingly frustrating (though well-justified) teachers’ strike. We’re experiencing the school outage a little differently at our house, because this also marks the beginning of our experience homeschooling our younger child. And while we’re lucky to [...]

Read more →

Choosing research methods for data-driven storytelling

September 4, 2014

This blog post does not represent Vision Critical. In fact, I think some of my colleagues are going to argue with me vigorously over this one. Rigorous data gathering and analysis can get in the way of effective storytelling by non-profits. That proved to be the most controversial part of my talk today on Telling [...]

Read more →

Is this an ice cream? A 2×2

September 3, 2014

It has recently come to my attention that many people seem to be unable to recognize whether their preferred frozen dessert is ice cream. At last! A modern dilemma I can actually solve, thanks to this handy 2×2: Is it ice cream? Butterfat content 10 to 20% Less than 10% Ice cream flavors (chocolate, vanilla, [...]

Read more →

20 requirements for a great coffee shop for home office workers

August 27, 2014

What are the ingredients for the perfect working café? I’ve been thinking about this question because I’m heading into a period when I expect to spend a lot of time working in coffee shops.  I’ve spent a lot of my career, including my most productive periods, working in coffee shops, largely because they offer the [...]

Read more →

Yelpless: What kinds of reviews get squelched by Yelp?

August 26, 2014

I’m an ardent (some might say pathological) Yelp user, and since I am incapable of putting anything in my mouth without first validating its viability on Yelp, I try to contribute back to the community by sharing my own perspectives and information, particularly on the all-important subject of artisanal ice cream. But today I got [...]

Read more →

Is the Canadian media responsible for Western Canadian alienation?

August 25, 2014

What is the root cause of Western Canadian alienation? Contrary to common arguments, it’s not because the rest of Canada fails to understand the West’s “distinct history, economy and society“, it’s not due to the National Energy Program or even (as my friend and colleague Angus Reid once noted) to the under-representation in our electoral system and [...]

Read more →

Bumper sticker conversation guide: 2×2 edition

August 17, 2014

This weekend my mind got blown a tiny bit by this unexpected combination of bumper stickers. Naturally, I facebooked the photo, and my friend Steve challenged me to fit this phenomenon into a 2×2. But as with any 2×2, the structure of the table should be determined by what it’s helping you understand…so in this [...]

Read more →

How 17 essential travel apps can improve your next vacation

July 14, 2014

Whether you’re packing your bags for a summer trip to Europe or packing the car for a summer road tip with the kids, you may be tempted to define your vacation by what you’re not packing: your computer, tablet or mobile phone. As more and more of us struggle with the invisible electronic leash that keeps us [...]

Read more →