Over the holiday weekend, I engaged in an activity shared by many households lately: I binge-watched shows and films on some of the major streaming services. If you’re especially curious, I caught up on the latest seasons of Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon Prime Video; enjoyed the classic horror/comedy adventure Gremlins on that service; and plowed through most of the first season of Netflix‘s original series The Crown. Suffice to say, other than this blog entry, I got very little done.
Watching original programming like those shows is easy to do: the services advertise them on their main screens, boasting award nominations and all-star casts. Even Gremlins, an older film, showed up in Amazon’s “Recommended Movies” section–but I’m guessing they did that because it’s set at Christmas time, as were many of the films in that Amazon section. So those are easy to come by. But what if I had a film I specifically wanted to watch, but I didn’t know where to find it?
Searching each of the sites individually can be a very tedious procedure, especially when you have to enter in each letter of the film or show’s name one at a time with your remote control. Now let’s say I wanted to watch Gremlins, but in this scenario, I didn’t have an Amazon Prime membership, only Netflix. So I type in “Gremlins” on the Netflix search screen, and the results are creative, if unhelpful. I suppose it’s useful to learn the value of compromise. After all, as the Rolling Stones sing, “You can’t always get what you want.” But then, they also sing, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”
The trick isn’t just knowing what you want, but how to get it. Not long ago, I discovered a website dedicated to streamlining (if you’ll forgive the pun) the streaming content search. Can I Stream It? (CISI) is a search engine for finding a specific show or film across a wide variety of services. In their own words:
CanIStream.It is a free service created by Urban Pixels that allows you to search across the most popular streaming, rental, and purchase services to find where a movie is available. If the movie you’re looking for is not available, just sign-up, set a reminder and voila we will shoot you an email when your chosen service makes the movie available. It’s simple and fast.
Can I Stream It? breaks down the services into five categories:
Instant Streaming: Subscription based and free instant streaming services.
Streaming Rental: Services that offer time limited rentals (24-48 hours) for a small fee.
Digital Purchase: Services that offer the ability to purchase a movie forever.
DVD / Bluray: Services that allow you to purchase or rent a physical dvd/blu-ray disc.
XFINITY Subscribers: Cable Subscription services with online viewing brought to you by Xfinity.
I applauded the thorough depth of CISI’s search. For example, when I searched for Gremlins, it found several sites like iTunes and Vudu, who had the film for rent. But something was missing, and it’s why I don’t use CISI as my primary search method anymore.
If you’ll recall, I was able to stream Gremlins on Amazon Prime’s streaming video service. Now, either the movie came to Amazon so recently that CISI hasn’t yet added it to their search results; or it’s been on Amazon for a while, and CISI just missed it. Unfortunately, it looks like the former is the case, thanks to the Celebuzz.com article, “10 Movies from the 1980’s to Stream on Amazon Prime Video” … from November 2015.
CISI also has an app, but two of the three reviews on its iTunes front page are one-star:
Don’t trust this app for being correct
When checking for titles it seems to be almost uniform that the title is available on “XFinity” and not available on other services.
As example just having checked for the TV series “Crossing Lines” it showed that none of the subscription services had it but it was available on XFinity. Yet in checking directly with Netflix Streaming subscription it was available.
Be careful this app can be misleading and lead you to pay for a video you have in one of your subscription services.
And here’s another gem:
Freezes, lags, and crashes…
This app has great potential, but unfortunately, as soon as you start typing it freezes, when you hit search it freezes, when you click the title it freezes. Sometimes it crashes instead freezes, which is nice for a change of pace, but then you have to start all over again.
So it’s not a great site, and its app isn’t winning any prizes. What is one to do?
Luckily I subsequently discovered a superior site/app, JustWatch.com. The website is much cleaner, with more accurate results than CISI; and its app is much more well-reviewed, holding firmly at an average of 4 stars out of 5 on iTunes.
Thanks to JustWatch, now I know that not only can I stream Gremlins on Amazon; but in addition to the handful of services CISI recommended, it’s available for rent from Microsoft, PlayStation, and Fandango Now.
The biggest issue so far is the limitation to which all search engines are prone: I need to know what to type. I recently spoke with my father (whom you may recall from an earlier blog post, is also a streaming video connoisseur), and he was recommending a film he saw about D-Day. It was on Amazon or Netflix–he knew that much. But damned if he could recall the title–or which service had it– off the top of his head. Typing in just “D-Day” on CanIStream.It and JustWatch.com each came up fruitless… but at least JustWatch brought up as its top result, 2004’s Ike: Countdown to D-Day. I’m embarrassed for CISI to reveal that their top result was the anime classic, Vampire Hunter D (Banpaia hanta D) (1985). Come on, guys, really? Suffice to say, that film has nothing to do with Normandy.
For the record, the film my dad saw was D-Day 6.6.1944 (from 2004, just like the Ike film). Ironically, that title is the first result when you type in “D-Day” on the search field on IMDB.com. Typing “D-Day 6.6.1944” into either CISI or JustWatch’s search fields brings up nothing but incorrect results. As it turns out (thanks to my dad’s tenacious hunting), it was indeed Netflix who had it, as just D-Day… and only if you search for just that. The longer, correct title brings up Netflix’s “your search did not have any matches” screen.
The emerging home AI boom (and stand by for a future blog post about that) has us shouting all sorts of random requests to Alexa, Google, and Siri. Hopefully that technology will be perfected soon enough that I can shout to my AppleTV, “Hey Siri, I want to watch that movie about D-Day,” and she’ll cue it up from whatever service has it, without my needing to know a specific title, or where to find it.
Or maybe I’ll just watch Gremlins, again. ■