February 28, 2024

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I have two main companions to the pandemic: cheese and a website called JustWatch.

JustWatch isn’t overly fancy, but it does tell me where to watch a specific show or movie that I’m looking for online. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is.

When I recently read about a ten year old British comedy series “Miranda”, JustWatch showed me that it was streamed for free on the Roku Channel. Identified which episodes of a fun UK house building show, “Grand Designs”, are on Netflix and which are missing. I wouldn’t have found out otherwise. Even Google doesn’t spit out this information.

JustWatch is not perfect and does not cure the coronavirus. But it (mostly) solves a little hassle in home life.

The site exists because streaming entertainment is glorious – and an unruly mess. Companies care more about their bottom line than their customers. Since streaming services distribute the entertainment like confetti, it is often impossible to figure out how they work together.

Most of the time I want to know what works with JustWatch.

David Croyé, the company’s chief executive officer, told me that JustWatch computers are constantly looking under the hood of 1,000+ streaming video services and digital download catalogs from companies like Apple and Amazon. There are tens of thousands of entertainment options that are constantly changing and varying from country to country.

Croyé said JustWatch “made it easier for people to navigate the jungle of content and streaming services.”

Many companies say they do. Very few do.

Apple is promoting its online video app “TV” as a hub where people can watch everything through their streaming services. No For example, Apple doesn’t catalog options from Netflix. You will encounter similar loopholes or confusion when searching for things on streaming gadgets like Amazon Fire TV. It just doesn’t work.

Why? Money.

Netflix doesn’t want rivals like Apple or Amazon to be added to its entertainment list – or it wants to be paid for it. No streaming company would want to alert you to “Love & Basketball” on a competing service. Google searches for streaming shows can return unreliable junk.

JustWatch is an island of relief, partly because it is not powerful enough to be feared by anyone.

It won’t tell you what’s on regular TV tonight and it makes mistakes. Margaret Lyons, my colleague who writes the Watching newsletter, uses JustWatch “all the time,” she said, but sometimes finds that shows are available places where they are not available. (Margaret also uses Flixable, a searchable database for multiple streaming services.)

Other companies like Roku initially promised to be neutral streaming aids, and they didn’t stay that way. JustWatch could have this problem.

It makes money using data on what people are seeing to tailor entertainment companies’ strategies. Sony film studio may use JustWatch information to target online movie trailers to horror movie fans.

It can be a red flag when businesses make money from data, not the people who use their products. You can imagine JustWatch making us see “Paddington” on Hulu because the company pays for the referral. Croyé said it would be counterproductive for JustWatch to betray our trust in this way.

There is still no universal guide to the new TV because streaming entertainment is a mess. (Did I mention that?) But right now JustWatch feels like the next best thing.

My colleague Erin Griffith’s recent article about people renting out their homes on Airbnb asked me again if there is something fundamentally broken in many of the digital services we use.

Erin spoke to homeowners who believed Airbnb’s pandemic refunds to renters were affecting their livelihoods. Some of them realized how little power they had.

It can be difficult to get sympathy for people who own beautiful homes and rent them on Airbnb. But Erin’s coverage pointed to an underlying flaw in virtually all digital matchmakers like Airbnb that connect willing sellers and buyers: people, after all, hate their courage.

Expedia compares hotels with people who want a room. Hotels hate it. DoorDash connects restaurants with people who want to eat at home. Restaurants hate it and so do couriers sometimes. Many merchants who sell on Amazon feel like they have reached the short end of the bar. Some app makers feel like they’re getting a raw deal from Apple.

What Erin heard from Airbnb hosts fits that pattern. The party offering something for sale often believes that the middleman is overcharging them, setting unfair rules, or becoming more powerful at their expense. It’s all the same taste of complaint.

And like some restaurants, hotels, and app makers, unhappy Airbnb hosts told Erin they wanted customers to come straight to them and skip the almighty matchmaker.

I don’t know if it’s possible to drop people off from these middlemen. It’s convenient to find a number of restaurants, places to stay, or vendors in one app. And the complaints could be unjustified. Airbnb, the iPhone App Store, and DoorDash attract large numbers of customers who otherwise wouldn’t be there.

Given the number of times at least one party in these matchmaking transactions grows to resent the agreement, I wonder if this is sustainable.

(Full disclosure: my sister works for a hotel union that is pushing for stricter regulation on Airbnb.)

  • Routers are very boring, but important: My colleague Brian X. Chen has tested a crop of the new generation of wireless routers that promise to make our home Internet connections faster and more reliable. Brian’s results have not been impressive, but he has advice for us.

  • All is not well in this Russian cyber attack: Members of Congress and corporate executives are still unsure how Russia carried out one of the most nifty computer hacks in history, reported my colleague David E. Sanger. And it is possible that the attackers are still hanging out on government and corporate computer networks.

  • Facebook is a private foreign ministry: ProPublica reported that Facebook executives sided with Turkey’s demand to block material about the military’s attacks on the Kurdish minority instead of risking closure in the country.

Tiny rabbits.

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