UPDATED Video discovery company Fanhattan just released an iPad app (s AAPL) and is working its way onto connected devices. But its next step might be bigger than just launching a channel on someone else’s device. Instead, the startup might follow the Roku path by building a device of its own, or partnering with someone else to build a Fanhattan-branded set-top box.
With the just-released Fanhattan iPad app, users can search for and discover movies through Netflix (s nflx) and Hulu Plus, as well as Apple’s own iTunes store. While the list of launch partners on the content front is somewhat limited right now, Fanhattan CEO Gilles BianRosa told us in an interview that the service will soon add other content distributors, which could include the HBO Go (s TWX) and the Comcast Xfinity TV app (s CMCSA).
The app is an extension of its desire to be the cloud-based video discovery engine for connected devices. Fanhattan introduced its technology last December, but it has yet to announce any partners on the connected device front. So it has taken the product and created an app for the iPad that leverages the same technology but allows tablet users to find movies and TV shows they’re looking for across a number of video services on the device. Launching the iPad app also enables it to reach a large group of early adopters while it tries to get its software added to other platforms.
Fanhattan still has plans to power video discovery on connected TVs, Blu-ray players and other streaming devices, and BianRosa told us the company is working toward having its technology added either as a standalone app or as the default video navigation system for multiple sources of content. But it’s also exploring the possibility of selling its own device, which would go up against offerings like the Roku player, the Boxee Box and Apple TV. By introducing another streaming box to the market, Fanhattan sees an opportunity to build mind share while also providing a better discovery mechanism than the competition.
To do so, the company has developed a reference design for a streaming device, and is considering partnering with a consumer electronics manufacturer to help it bring that product to market. In that way, its go-to-market strategy is a lot like Boxee, which created a media streaming software that D-Link modeled a broadband set-top box around. Like Boxee, Fanhattan sees the introduction of a low-cost streaming set-top box as a way to build brand recognition which could carry over to other devices.
If it builds a box, Fanhattan could have one big advantage over competitors like Boxee and Roku, which rely on an app-based approach to video service navigation. On those devices, different stores of content are siloed onto different apps, with no good way to search across them to find the videos you want to watch. A user interested in watching an episode of Glee on his Roku box might have to search Netflix and Hulu Plus each to find the contenthe wants. But a Fanhattan-powered set-top box would seek to provide a unified view across all of the services.
That said, it would still need to navigate the tricky waters of getting content providers on board with making their content available on such a device, something that has proven tricky for other device makers. Google TV, (s GOOG) for example, had a difficult time signing up content providers to build apps for devices built on the TV operating system. And while Netflix is near-ubiquitous, other content aggregators — like Hulu Plus — are taking longer to roll out over multiple device platforms. Adding another box into the mix could just add to an already fragmented market.
Update: Boxee VP of Marketing Andrew Kippen takes issue with our characterization of his company as having app-based content silos. In an email, he wrote: “[W]e don’t fall into the hunt and peck app silo dilemma of Roku/AppleTV. We’ve abstracted most major TV shows / Movies into libraries that amass content from everywhere, and our search will search movies, tv shows, apps, local files, and web.”