Last week our post about Premier Week and Hulu drew a lot of comments from fans of another service, Fancast.com (no longer online). While at first glance it looks like a clone of Hulu (lets you watch TV shows online legally), it offers a great deal more than meets the eye.
The most significant difference between Fancast and other video streaming services is its all-encompassing nature. Hulu makes specific deals with providers in order to bring in content and lets you watch full episodes of your favorites TV shows for free. Fancast isn’t as concerned with specific partnerships and brings in legal video from wherever it can.
On top of this, Fancast learns your location and preferences in order to sync up with what you normally watch on TV. In a sense, the site tries to amplify your current usage habits instead of making you switch over to digital completely.
Normally I would try and walk you through the process of using Fancast, but it’s really much too vast for that approach. Each user will have different features they like the best, so I’ll try to point out the most important ones here:
Show Listings and Access Options
The thing I’ll probably be using the most is the TV listings guide. While these are easily obtainable at TVGuide and the like, Fancast will remember your location permanently (as it is tied to your account), and always bring up the television schedule according to your local channels. Also, from your preferences and your ratings of individual shows, it brings up a likely nightly schedule for quick access.
Another rather innovative thing about Fancast is its access options. Each episode specifically displays tags for the different ways you can access it. If it is a current show, it tells you the next time it will be on TV (along with channel info). If it is part of their strong streaming video library, there’s a link to it. It’s also possible to find the show on DVD or On Demand through their paid download service.
Streaming TV Shows (Legally)
As I said, the number of streaming videos they have is pretty staggering. Many of the newer shows are directly from the networks or other similar sources. The older shows, like the Highlander episodes I’m working my way though, are simply ports from Hulu. The interface for the player is fairly simple. The slider is fairly blocky for some reason, the volume controls are incredibly basic, and generally it’s very hard to switch away from the awesomeness that is the Hulu player.
One episode that I watched and then returned to later did ask me if I wanted to start from the beginning or pick up where I left off. This scored some points with me as I’ve had browser windows crash on me frequently during streaming.
Movies and Trailers
Another interesting aspect of Fancast is the movies section. Their list of full-length movies isn’t incredibly small, but it probably won’t replace your Netflix subscription any time soon. The player is essentially the same and will remember your place. I would say more about the video viewing itself, but 1984 decided it wasn’t going to play any video for me at all, only the sound track. Clearly there are some bugs to be worked out.
I do like the fact that they have trailers on the site because it might help with their community building. While full-length movies don’t generate much discussion, trailers provide a lot of fodder for bloggers and users alike.
Fan News and Blogs
The blogs that live on Fancast are pretty decent reading. They clearly have a staff of dedicated fans. In fact, it’s evident in the way the site is designed. Instead of locking everything down from the start and slowly expanding, Fancast has tried to give you everything and will hopefully improve their quality over time. The blogs are few in number, but I assume that will grow over time.
There were some things about Fancast that I didn’t particularly like. First of all, the service not only prompts you for your location to customize it, but also because it wants to limit you to the content you’re already able to receive from your provider. In fact, if you’re outside the United States, you’re not allowed to view the videos on Fancast.
Another gripe for me was the video player and the way it was formatted. The player is simply too basic to compete with its competitors. It’s obvious that they either wrote their own player and didn’t put a lot of time into it, or they bought one that was pre-constructed. Either way, it is generally very short on features and the playback didn’t seem very stable at all. In fact, the player even does that irritating thing where the slider bar will jump back to the beginning if you pull it too far to the right.
My last gripe is the overall page layout. It is a fairly attractive website, but it has too many elements on the page and it is consequently very slow to load. The page architecture is simply too complex and even the simplest flashblocker or adblocker completely breaks the functionality.
Overall, I think Fancast has a ton of potential. They already have the content, the channel integration, and the seeds of a community base. The main areas for them to work on are the player and the page layout. While it’s a nice design, it’s always a mistake to choose form over function.
What do you think? It was you, the commenters, who suggested Fancast, so please defend or defile it as you see fit!
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