I never got the chance to use Moviefone. I grew up without a cellphone, and the first one I bought was a smartphone that allowed me to check showtimes through the Internet instead of a robotic assistant I had to actually call. So when the company announced that it would shut down its dial-in service in February, I had to mourn the fact that I would never be able to bond over a hellacious Moviefone experience.
Instead, I get the chance to complain about the new Moviefone, a Web-based service that promises to find the perfect movie or television show for any occasion. The service no longer requires a phone call — instead, it asks users to type the name of a program, actor, or director into the search tool on its new website, which spits out corresponding videos.
It encourages users to find videos through whatever services they can, creating a hodgepodge of links to Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and other competitive services. That seems strange to someone like me, who tends to pick a store and stick with it, but others might like the comprehensive number of links. It will find showtimes for different movies and television shows, but you have to tell the service what you use to watch videos and where you live to get the best results. Put another way: the new Moviefone is basically a TV Guide for millennials.
Besides the video advertisement for “Maleficent” that interrupted my first search on the new website, there’s not much to complain about with the new Moviefone. It looks decent, if a bit dated. Its search results found shows like “Suits” and “Bones” with ease, even if it buries them under its movie results. Another show, “Broad City,” didn’t display Hulu availability even though it’s on the service. Small issues like that undermine an already incredibly basic service.
Offering a service like this seems strange when companies like Amazon and Roku offer (or at least plan to offer) similar tools in their own set-top boxes, when something like Google exists, and when many people already know when their favorite television shows are broadcast or from which marketplace they should buy them. Moviefone can’t tell me anything that Google, Flixster, or any number of other services can tell me, and those services don’t throw auto-playing video ads in my face.
Moviefone 2.0 might have made sense a few years ago when it was harder to find different videos, and people were just starting to cut the cord. But now, using Moviefone makes about as much sense as signing up for AOL’s dial-up Internet service — which is fitting, since AOL acquired Moviefone for some $388 million back in February 1999.
Then again, maybe that’s a winning strategy. As of last year, AOL still made the majority of its revenues from the 2 million people stuck with its dial-up Internet service. Perhaps this new Moviefone will find enough users looking for an updated TV Guide to do something similar.