SnagFilms, a website where people can stream thousands of ad-supported indie films for free, has begun testing a new social version of its site designed to help viewers find films they like more easily and share those recommendations with friends.
The privately-held company has invited 1,000 people to view the beta of its revamped site, after which it will be generally released in early summer 2013. It will also be later made available on mobile devices, including on iOS devices, Android devices, Windows 8 devices, Xbox LIVE, Roku, Sony, Kindle, BlackBerry RIM, and Boxee.
While some other sites such as Netflix offer recommendation engines for film watchers and Hulu offers picks from its editorial staff, SnagFilms claims that its revamped site will be more comprehensive in its ability to let people find films they enjoy and share them with others. Also, those sites tend to focus on Hollywood blockbusters, rather than small independent films. Competitors like Crackle do not offer a full social networking site, says Damian Benders, head of product development and marketing at SnagFilms.
“There are not a lot of platforms out there that bring the experience of recommending films to one another as we do in the offline world into the online experience,” says Benders. He said SnagFilms started with the consumer and entertainment lover in mind to try to crack how they can best discover content.
The new site is like a cross between BuzzFeed – with lists of popular or viral content – and a social network that provides film recommendations from trusted friends as well as film critics users can choose to follow. Users create profiles from which they can include their own personalized collections of films, say, Favorite 80’s Flicks, and then publish those for others to see on the site and on other social networks.
Lastly, like Amazon or Netflix, the site also provides personalized matches and recommendations from the SnagFilms editorial team. When users create a profile, they can opt in to allow SnagFilms to access their Facebook profile information, which includes their favorite films, so SnagFilms can make educated guesses as to what that user will like.
“We have found that people like to see groups of films that are like one another,” says Benders.
As ever, users don’t have to pay to stream the independent films, under the agreement that they are willing to view advertisements before, during, and after the films. Brands, for their part, will also be able to experiment further with engaging viewers on the site, giving them the chance to opt in to a longer commercial before the film starts in exchange for not being interrupted during the film, or weaving ad clips into a potentially more compelling storytelling sequence, Benders says.
Founded in 2008, SnagFilms started out focused on documentaries before expanding its repertoire to all kinds of indie films. The company says it averages about four million visits a month with 50 million unique page views. Earlier this year, it received $6 million from an investor group, which includes SnagFilms founder Ted Leonsis, Steve Case’s Revolution Ventures, New Enterprise Associates (NEA), Comcast Interactive Capital (CIC), and others. The company has about 50 full-time employees.