Flickr cc: nhussein

I can not but follow with great interest, and fascination, how the Swedish online movie scene is developing.

This week Headweb launched in Norway as announced back in December. Two days prior to Headweb’s launch Voddler announced to be heading to Norway as well, also raising another 2.6M EUR in funding from Nordic private equity firm Eqvitec.

Headweb is a Swedish DRM-free online movie service for rental and download based on peer-to-peer technology (my previous in depth coverage), while as Voddler is a free online movie streaming service relying on an ad based model (now also offering wider range of titles as rental).

What I find most intriguing, though, is how these two companies have such different approaches to win the market and the users over.


Few Comparisons

Founded 2006
Launch Nov -07 Download/ Aug -08
Employees 10
Funding Private/Angel
Nr of Movies > 2000
Features Facebook connect, Platform independent, Plex, Playstation 3 support
Distributors Warner Bros., Paramount, SF (Svensk Filmindustri)

Founded 2005
Launch Oct -09 (Closed beta) (Jun -09 selected customers of Bredbandsbolaget)
Employees 35
Funding VC/Private 15M EUR total (Deseven ≈5M EUR, Unknown ≈3,5M EUR, Eqvitec ≈2,6M EUR)
Nr of Movies 1200
Features Client, requires 13GB free disk space, Windows Vista / XP, MAC OS X 10.5 or higher
Distributors Disney, Paramount, Sony

Media Approach

Starting up by building up a hype claiming to be a Spotify for film, Voddler took a high risk path. So far there has been very little of delivering the user experience that meets up the high expectations. Media hasn’t been gentle on it, but naturally all hype and mainstream media coverage together with previous 3,5M EUR mystery funding has played a role in placing Voddler on TechCrunch Top 100 Index.

One could argue that Voddler is only in a closed beta and that problems do occur more often in a beta phase. This is also why I’m fascinated why it’s taken such an aggressive media approach, almost given an image of itself of being a ready to launch product, clearly leaving main part of the users in doubt why they keep experiencing a lot of problems. I’m frankly quite concerned, taking in consideration the fact that it has a growing online community counting over 15 000 Facebook fans and 2 600 Twitter followers to respond to. A community with its own voice, and certainly not quiet when not happy.

When it comes to Headweb’s approach to media, it has mostly been seen engaged in discussions regarding piracy, IPRED, and the movie industry in general.

Business Model

Voddler’s ad based business model offering free movies in exchange for ads has been questioned already by its users. The hype about claiming to be Spotify for film has therefore let many users down, wondering why they now are offered rental movies instead of premium accounts to be able to get wider range of titles, for higher price than at ones local video rental or other online movie services (after initial 0,5 EUR limited titels campaign).

All this leaves one big question: How is that being a Spotify for movies?

Headweb has instead of an ad based model concentrated on keeping the rental and download prices attractive, as well as rewarding frequent movie sharers with credits used as currency for future purchases.

Developer Community

There’s also a difference in approaching the Internet developer community.

Voddler is at the moment pissing the developer community off by not releasing the source code under the GPL regulations. There’re today 176 entries in a two months old support thread without Voddler having answered or clarified the issue. This doesn’t really go together with the following statement on the Voddler homepage: “Your help is priceless to us and we are grateful for your opinions in making Voddler into the groundbreaking phenomena we envision.”

Headweb has taken another approach by attending developer (un)conferences such as 24 Hour Business Camp, offering an open API to hack on.

What’s Next For Voddler

While Headweb keeps getting positive reviews in Norway (in NOR), to deal with all the criticism Voddler has announced several action plans, together with a new CTO: A new browser version, easier search and navigation, and much requested mouse support. An Adobe Air Client will also be available for testing in March.

Due to several security issues, crashing clients, poor user experience and limited movie titles, many users are wondering what ever has been going on for four years in the Voddler offices, even suggesting Voddler being a sequel to and Joost. I sincerely hope that all this Nordic inverstor money is put to work to create great Nordic businesses.

Personally, I’ll be using my Voddler invite as soon as it releases the browser version, lets me read the Terms of Privacy before agreeing to them, and gets its registration process together. Being tech savvy, there’s been no way I would have previously let its client to run as root on my Mac (fixed now), allocate 13GB and keep it running while abroad, making my roaming costs to skyrocket.

How To Build Successful Consumer Web Products

 Building consumer web products is all about building trust, customer relationships and about delivery. For everyone getting into building and/or investing in consumer web businesses I would like to address two pieces of great advice:
Make awesome stuff: Umair Haque, Harvard Business review
Obsess over customers: Jeff Bezos, Amazon

And one more: Before targeting new user groups and markets, serve well the one you have.

To be continued.

Let me know your thoughts on Headweb, Voddler and/or consumer web products in the comments!

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