The New Moviefone Solves a Big Problem

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In 1999, AOL (NYSE:AOL) paid some $500 million in stock to acquire Moviefone, an interactive telephone service that you could call to get showtimes and other information about movies playing in theaters near you. Over the past 15 years, AOL has added an online component to the service, but the company has never paid it a whole lot of attention — until now.

On Monday, AOL gave the site a major update. Now, in addition to providing information about movies playing in theaters, the company has broadened the scope of the site to tell you which streaming services you can use to watch television shows and movies. That might not sound like a big deal, but it helps solve a problem that only seems to get worse every year.

In the old days, once a TV episode had aired, you had no way of seeing it again unless a station showed a rerun. To see a movie, you had to flip through the channels or go to a video store to rent something from the selection on offer.

Thankfully, those dark ages have come to an end. Now, thanks to widespread broadband Internet access, the media outlook is much sunnier — but it’s still not perfect. In an ideal world, we would be able to watch anything at any time simply by touching a button. But that media utopia seems like a long way off, thanks to an increasing number of content providers.

With services like iTunes (NASDAQ:AAPL), Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX), Hulu, Amazon Prime (NASDAQ:AMZN), HBO Go, as well as on-demand cable channels, broadband lines are flooded with content delivery options. The problem is that none of these services talk to one another, so it’s hard to know exactly where to look when you want to watch something specific.

The current lineup of streaming services is great if you’re just browsing for something to watch or if you know that something is on your “watch list.” But, for instance, if you want to watch the fifth season of Mad Men, then it’s hard to know where to look. Search for it on Amazon Prime and you won’t find it; same with Hulu. ITunes has it, but you have to pay for each episode individually. If you happen to search for it on Netflix, then you’ve lucked out, because that’s the only subscription service that has the show. If you have something specific in mind to watch, chances are that it’s not available on every given subscription streaming service.

That’s where the new Moviefone comes in. It’s like a roadmap that can tell you where to go to watch what you want to watch. Instead of searching through each service’s databases individually, Moviefone does the heavy lifting and searches them for you. Then it tells you where you can watch it, how much it costs, and provides you with a link. Very convenient.

Moviefone isn’t the first website to offer this kind of service: Go Watch It and Can I Stream It do similar things. But as time marches on and companies like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu all offer different selections of movies and TV shows, sites like Moviefone will become ever more necessary. The more pipelines there are in the media landscape, the more valuable a map of those pipelines becomes.

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