If you get frustrated by not being able to find something decent to watch despite the fact that you're paying for so many entertainment options, or you often find out after-the-fact that you've missed something you really would have liked to watched and can't find it on-demand, then there's an iPad app you should take a look at: NextGuide.
"There's nothing to watch on TV," has been a cultural mantra since the novelty of TV wore off in the 1950s and people realized that the three or four channels they had to watch repeated much of the same kinds of stuff over and over again.
We're a long way from that world now. Over 90% of U.S. households pay for television service that has at least dozens and usually hundreds of channels to choose from. Add in the Internet and streaming video services that offer tens of thousands of options at our fingers tips at any moment and you'd think there would never be a reason to complain.
And yet, most of us still whine that there's nothing good to watch.
The real problem today isn't so much that there isn't truly anything we'd want to watch as much as there aren't very good ways to find it. We are drowning in a sea of options. There is an overadundance of choices and a lack of tools for searching for the stuff we want, or better yet, setting up a few filters and letting our favorite programming find us.
Google has wisely been trying to solve the search problem across traditional TV and web video with Google TV. However, its solution is overly complicated, requires another box or a special TV, and just isn't easy enough to use yet.
A better solution is the approach taken by NextGuide. At its core, the app is a listings guide that bridges live TV with Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, Amazon Video, and other web sources. It mashes up all these video sources into a personalized dashboard that shows what's on and when, as well as the streamable options.
You can set your favorite channels (it pulls a database of your local listings) and select your favorite entertainment categories (e.g. Drama, Documentary, Baseball, Travel, Science Fiction, etc.) and then the app will present you with a customized dashboard of choices with high-quality thumbnails and images that are presented in a highly-visually, easy-to-touch grid format.
But, where the real magic happens is when you do searches on your favorite shows, franchises, actors, or niche categories. Then the app gives you a custom page with thumbnails arranged in a grid showing upcoming live TV episodes you may want to watch (the time and channel are displayed), on-demand movies or TV shows/episodes (it shows the available options for watching it: e.g. Netflix, Amazon, iTunes), and web video clips (which you can watch right within the app). You can also save these searches as custom categories that you can access at any time from your dashboard, as well as turn them into alerts so that NextGuide can send you an iOS alert whenever there's something new or an upcoming live episode.
The ability to watch clips directly within the app is a new feature that NextGuide just launched on December 21, along with a slate of other improvements, including support for Apple AirPlay. The timing was excellent, since tech news slows down in the final weeks of the year and a lot people in the English-speaking world are off work for the holidays and winter break. That means more time than usual for entertainment.
I used the end-of-the-year slowdown to test NextGuide for over a week and it worked really well for me. I searched for two movies that I was interested in watching over the holidays -- The Hobbit and Les Miserables -- and it led me to interview clips and some interesting featurettes. The app also helped me find a PBS documentary that I was able to record on DVR as well as an interesting docudrama that the app revealed was available on Netflix. Without NextGuide, I have I would not have found any of this stuff.
In some of the searches and categories, NextGuide occasionally pops up irrelevant shows or just stuff that fits the category but is not very interesting. Fortunately, you can long-press these items and delete them off the screen, and then NextGuide will refresh and fill the slots with other suggestions.
The biggest thing NextGuide is missing is YouTube clips. The challenge, of course, is that YouTube has lots of duplicates, illegal content, and low-quality clips, but it also has lots of good stuff that I miss not seeing integrated. The lack of YouTube integration is partially offset by the fact that NextGuide smoothly integrates lots of Hulu clips that you can launch and watch from directly within the app.
My other complaint about NextGuide is that it's not great at displaying sports content. I'd love to use it to do custom categories on my favorite teams and have it show me broadbast info on upcoming games as well as display web highlight clips. And, it would be great to use NextGuide's alerts feature to let me know when there's new content on my teams.
Despite those quibbles, the NextGuide app is free so it's worth giving it a try and seeing if it can help you find good content that you might otherwise miss.
This definitely feels like the future of video entertainment discovery. It's easy to see why NextGuide can afford to give this away for free. If it takes off, the app has plenty of screen real estate to offer media companies the ability to promote their shows or for potential advertisers to target specific audiences, since NextGuide allows users to narrowly define their interests.
However, NextGuide will have to continue to make deals with content providers like the deal it made with Hulu to display its clips. That's a lot of content providers and media networks to deal with, from the likes of ESPN and A&E (both owned by Disney) to smaller channels and studios, and even organizations like Major League Baseball and the NFL that produce much of their own video now. And, at some point, NextGuide will need to cut a deal with Google to bring in YouTube, and then it will have to figure out how to filter it well enough to only surface the best stuff.
Companies that are pursuing Internet TV such as Google, Apple, Roku, and Boxee could look at what NextGuide is doing and emulate its approach. Or, one of them could take a shortcut and acquire NextGuide, which has made an excellent start in .