MUBI. When editorial criteria outperforms technology.
We are more than used to see how video on demand platforms are left on the hands of artificial intelligence in order to get to know users more in depth. This is a global trend aimed at targeting the offering to user preferences, a kind of hyper-specialization of content with a broader editorial offering.
MUBI takes a different approach. This OTT platform, present in more than 190 countries, relies instead on a significant panel of human experts to contribute recommendations or thematic blocks, and so differentiate itself from other competitors. It is the only aspect in which technology does not stand out, as MUBI has its own CDN and makes an excellent use of the user interface, which turns it into a reference in usability, accessibility and resource optimization.
In order to gain a deeper knowledge of their proposal and get a rough idea of their technical means, TM Broadcast got in touch with Bryan Mueller, Director of Business Strategy.
For beginners, what’s MUBI and what are its main differences to other VOD / OTT Platforms around the world?
To introduce us, MUBI is a global film platform, available in over 190 countries, and offers a hand-curated selection of the world’s best films on demand, streaming ad-free on its proprietary technology.
Since launch in 2007 we’ve built a platform that focuses on the highest quality and attention to detail, that will appeal to anyone with a genuine love for great films. Our model and approach is very different to other SVOD services as we are focused on human curation, and we make our films available in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or frustrate people, introducing one new hand-picked film a day in our NOW SHOWING section. Each film is chosen by our team of film experts who look at local culture and cinema to decide what people would enjoy watching in each country. We also recently introduced our LIBRARY, which is home to films we’ve previously hand-picked for NOW SHOWING. The section simply allows members to re-watch or discover films we’ve shown before. Our community of 10 million members also has access to our vast international film database and news publication Notebook.
Another key differentiator for us in the UK, Ireland and India is MUBI GO, our cinema-going initiative and app. This gives members a weekly cinema ticket to selected new release films picked by MUBI. We plan to expand this to the US and Germany in Spring 2021, and then other markets will follow.
MUBI also produces and theatrically distributes films by emerging and world renowned filmmakers, which members can see exclusively on the service. Recent releases include BACURAU (Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho), BORDER (Ali Abbasi) and SUSPIRIA (Luca Guadagnino). Digital releases have included BEANPOLE (Kantemir Balagov), EMA (Pablo Larraín) and coming soon Werner Herzog’s latest feature FAMILY ROMANCE, LLC and Xavier Dolan’s MATTHIAS & MAXIME.
MUBI’s main offering is movies. What about TV Shows? Have you ever considered that they become part of MUBI?
We’ve thought about it, but we are movie experts and our focus will remain on being a film streaming service, distributor and producer. We are, however, executive producing Nicolas Winding Refn’s TV series MANIAC COP and can’t wait to see how that develops.
MUBI operates in several markets worldwide. How do you adapt the content and location for each country? Is this a hard task?
MUBI is available in over 190 countries, and each country has a different film line-up hand-picked by our team of curators. It’s a lot of work curating and programming each month with new films, but it’s what we love doing and what keeps our content so fresh for our members. MUBI memberships aren’t geo-locked either, so you can use MUBI practically anywhere when you travel, your film selections just change as you move.
The platform is available in multiple languages and wherever we can we subtitle films in as many languages as possible, focusing on English, French, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese and Turkish. We have a very efficient translation and encoding process to ensure this runs smoothly, and as we become fully localised in more markets we’ll keep expanding the team that is responsible for this area.
What were the main technical difficulties you had to face?
We have always had a very talented development team, so nothing was too difficult, it just took a lot of work, long days and vigorous testing. We find it exciting when we’re faced with new technical challenges and development opportunities. Since 2007 we’ve evolved our user experience and developed apps for many platforms. We were one of the first VOD services to be on a games console in 2010 and co-developed the PlayStation app with Sony. We were also one of Apple TV’s launch partners in the US, as well as one of the first apps on Amazon Fire TV. MUBI is currently available on the web, Roku devices, Amazon Fire TV, PlayStation, Apple TV, LG and Samsung Smart TVs, as well as on mobile devices including iPad, iPhone and Android.
Right now, you are showing movies in both SD and HD. What about 4K? Have you considered 4K so far? What about UHD (4K + HDR)?
Wherever possible we show films in 1080p. We are always discussing and evaluating our options with 4K and UHD. Due to the breadth of cinema we show, some of our classic films date back decades and wouldn’t have 4K sources available.
Users can access MUBI from PS4, Mobile, Desktop… and Smart TVs. How do you manage the development of apps for each one of the platforms? Do you have a standard app and then you adapt it to each ecosystem?
We develop everything in-house at MUBI, and we start all apps from scratch in their native platform language.
MUBI’s signature is to offer curated content for cinema lovers. Have you studied AI tools so far to suit users’ preferences?
We do not use any commercial AI tools. As you said, MUBI is focused on human curation and our content team bases its film selections on local culture and what our members engage with in each local market.
What’s the cloud platform that hosts the MUBI VOD/OTT platform? What services does it offer you?
From day one, we chose to build our entire infrastructure in the cloud, and we use AWS. One of the benefits is that we can scale easily, which is vital when you’re seeing fast subscriber growth and increased viewing globally. We also recently added new functionalities to MUBI including our LIBRARY and FREE film page.
What kind of system do you use to manage the distribution of your content on each of your channels?
We developed our own CDN and encoder service, and we’ve been using it for over six years now. We used commercial CDNs earlier on in MUBI’s development but we eventually decided to build our own to have more control over the entire process and be able to fix any issues that arose much faster and more effectively. With commercial CDNs you rely on their support to fix any problems users are having with streaming and we wanted to have the option to deal with it immediately ourselves.
In addition, we found over the years that the whole video stack needed to work together to be efficient, from the moment the source gets to MUBI to the moment it’s played by a user, there are many steps involved and we wanted to own the whole process in-house to make the user experience as smooth as possible.
What is MUBI’s technological future? And, in your opinion, what’s the tech future of OTT platforms?
We are constantly improving and evolving our user experience across all platforms, as well as exploring new opportunities. Right now, we’re working on bringing our LIBRARY section to additional platforms and because it only launched a month ago, we’re adjusting the design and navigation based on user feedback.
Looking at the devices our members are using, in addition to the web, iPhones are the most used right now, followed closely by Android. Usage of Smart TVs has also been increasing each year as well, so we will continue to optimise the user experience on our existing Smart TV platforms, and keep working with Apple and Amazon to launch our app in more markets.
Regarding the future of the industry, technological innovation has led to greater portability so we will see OTT platforms continue to focus on how their content is best viewed on mobile devices. New use cases like IOT and Smart Home technology will also create new forms of engagement, which entertainment platforms will start taking advantage of as integration opportunities emerge.