Today’s entertainment junkie has a seemingly endless supply of TV shows and movies to watch and an overwhelming number of ways to watch them.
If you’re like me, you probably struggle to manage all of the TV shows and movies on your watch list. You may be facing one or more of the following challenges:
- How to keep track of all the TV shows you’re already watching or would like to watch in the future.
- How to get notified that your favorite TV show is airing again or has new episodes available.
- How to keep a watch later queue of all of the movies you’d like to see.
- How to find out when movies on your list become available for rental or streaming.
- How to decide which movies or TV shows are good enough to watch (whether now or later).
All of these challenges lead to the ultimate question:
The answer: yes … and no. I haven’t yet found a single app that can organize my entire entertainment life. But I have adopted several different apps, which in combination meet most of my needs. In other words, creating a complete solution requires cobbling together several apps and services, which is what I have done to date.
Admittedly, this is a First World Problem and a bit silly to anguish over. Yet, I suspect that I’m not alone in my frustrations with the solutions available today.
With that in mind, I thought I’d share my current setup and highlight where it falls short. At the very least, my hope is that some readers may learn about a helpful app or two. And if I get lucky, maybe someone reading this will have ideas about alternative apps I might try.
My current setup primarily relies on four apps: IMDb, EpisodeCalendar, JustWatch, and Rotten Tomatoes. (All of these services are available both on the web and on mobile devices.)
I use IMDb to create and manage my primary watch queue for movies (but not for TV shows). I mostly use the web app, but the iOS app is equally handy.
IMDb has a robust list feature, which you can use if you are a registered user. The app is a great place to keep your movie list(s) because it shows you a lot of data at a glance — everything from the movie’s basic meta info to its IMDb star rating and Metacritic Metascore. And if you click on the title, you can view ALL of the info about the movie on its detail page.
The other key feature of IMDb lists is the custom notes field, something which is difficult to find in other services. For each entry on your list, you can add whatever personal comments you’d like. Sometimes, I enter reminders of why I added the movie to my list (e.g. for Jindua, I have noted that it is a Canadian Indian movie that my wife watched on a flight). I also note whether I have added the movie to my JustWatch WatchList and Redbox Wish List (more on that later).
Surprisingly, I don’t use the “Your Watchlist” feature on IMDb and instead rely on their custom lists function. I don’t remember my original reason for this decision, but I think at one time, the UI or functionality was different for the Your Watchlist vs. custom lists. Looking again more recently, I think the Your Watchlist feature would now work just fine for my purposes.
In any case, I keep several lists in IMDb — for example, one for movies awaiting home video release and dedicated lists for each member of the family.
As much as I like IMDb for managing my movie watch lists, the service comes up short in two key areas.
- IMDb does not provide home video availability beyond some cross-sells to Amazon video streaming and disc sales. (Amazon owns IMDb.) From IMDb, you are not going to find out if a movie is available on Netflix, HBO, Hulu, or any other service.
- IMDb does not provide the Tomatometer score from Rotten Tomatoes, which is my favorite source for reviews and evaluation.
Despite its name (Internet Movie Database), IMDb also has data about TV series. However, I don’t use IMDb at all for managing my TV watch list.
Why not? In part, because EpisodeCalendar is a far superior tool for tracking TV series and episodes.
Although not perfect, EpisodeCalendar has a killer feature set.
With EpisodeCalendar, you can:
Add TV series to your “My Shows” queue.
Organize your shows into default or custom lists.
See your unwatched episodes and mark the ones you’ve recently watched.
View a monthly calendar that indicates when new episodes (of your shows) are airing (or dropping) within the next few months.
Receive daily and/or weekly email notifications for new episodes of shows in your queue.
For a full overview of EpisodeCalendar, see my previous post: How I Tamed Peak TV with EpisodeCalendar.
As much as I love EpisodeCalendar, it is not a complete solution. What’s missing?
- Unlike IMDb, EpisodeCalendar doesn’t offer a custom notes field for entries on your watch queue.
- EpisodeCalendar indicates the original network or platform for a show, but it doesn’t tell you WHERE you currently can view a particular TV series or episode. In other words, it does not provide streaming availability.
- EpisodeCalendar does not have native mobile apps. However, its website is mobile optimized. Pro tip: on your iPad, you can hold down the refresh icon in Safari to request the desktop version of the site which is more user-friendly than the mobile version.
As I’ve already mentioned, neither IMDb nor EpisodeCalendar offers comprehensive info on WHERE to watch movies and shows on your list.
To fill this gap, I’ve tried several services including Go Watch It, JustWatch, and Reelgood. Over time, Just Watch has emerged as my favorite, mostly because I prefer the user experience of their website and mobile app.
JustWatch is a search engine that tells you where you can stream movies or TV shows whether via subscription (e.g. Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.), rental (e.g. Vudu, iTunes, etc.), or purchase (e.g. YouTube, Fandango Now, etc.).
As you might expect, on JustWatch, you can add movies and TV shows to a WatchList. Even better, you can filter your WatchList to view only movies, only TV shows, or only content available from specific streaming services. For example, you could filter the list to show only movies available on Hulu.
To date, I’ve found the streaming availability data in JustWatch to be relatively accurate and up to date. The one shortcoming for me is that I wish JustWatch also included movie availability on disc (DVD and Blu-ray).
I occasionally rent movies from Redbox or borrow discs from my library. As far as I can tell, Redbox doesn’t have a public API, so their data is likely not available. Alas, this means I have to maintain a movie “Wish List” in Redbox also.
Helpfully, with the meta info for each movie, JustWatch shows rating scores from their own service as well as the Tomatometer percentage score from Rotten Tomatoes and the star rating from IMDb. (For TV shows, they don’t show the Tomatometer.)
At this point, you might be wondering why I don’t use JustWatch as my single organizer to track my movies and TV.
For tracking TV shows, JustWatch falls far short of the feature set available in EpisodeCalendar. Notably, you cannot track which episodes you’ve seen, create custom lists, view a calendar of upcoming episodes, or get email notifications.
For tracking movies, JustWatch could work as a viable alternative to IMDb, depending on your needs. For me, JustWatch is missing two key features as compared to IMDb. Firstly, the ability to add custom notes to each title, which is a feature I use extensively on my IMDb lists. Secondly, the ability to create multiple lists.
In my case, I use JustWatch to augment the other two services where I keep my primary movie and TV lists. Unfortunately, that means I have to redundantly add all of my movies and TV shows on JustWatch. If that seems kludgy to you, I agree, but it’s a necessary evil for the value I get.
I heavily rely on Rotten Tomatoes to decide which movies to add to my watch queue. The critical consensus about a movie is much more important to me than box office performance (popularity), genre, or the cast.
For movies, Rotten Tomatoes has the most comprehensive aggregation of reviews, and I like the ability to filter reviews to see only those from the “Top Critics.” Rotten Tomatoes allow me to easily get a quick measure of a movie by scanning over the review excerpts, with each corresponding full review just a click away.
For TV shows, I used to rely on MetaCritic to get the critical consensus on TV series, but now I turn more often to Rotten Tomatoes, which added television to its service sometime in the past few years.
Unfortunately, Rotten Tomatoes is not a contender for the ultimate organizer. You can add movies and shows to a “Want to see” list, but the list has none of the extra features and functionality I use in the other apps I’ve discussed.
My Ideal Feature Set
My ideal movie and TV organizer would allow me to:
- Add movies and TV shows to a watch queue.
- Use a single list or create multiple lists.
- Enter custom comments for each item on my list.
- See the streaming availability for each item on my list.
- Track which episodes I’ve watched from a particular TV series.
- Notify me by email when items on my list become available.
- See the critical consensus for a movie or TV series.
- View a personalized calendar of upcoming releases for items on my list. (This one falls more into nice to have.)
The table below summarizes how the apps I use today stack up against my feature wish list.
- All features of EpisodeCalendar are for TV shows only as the service does not cover movies.
- IMDb shows streaming availability for Amazon only.
- EpisodeCalendar includes a score for most shows, but I can’t determine its source (it does not appear to be from IMDb or TVDB).
The feature matrix above helps drive home the point that my ideal vision of “one app to rule them all” seems elusive at the moment.
At this point, I would be happy to simplify my setup down to two apps, one for movies and one for TV. My ideal movie organizer would be a mashup of IMDb and JustWatch whereas my ideal TV organizer would combine the features of EpisodeCalendar with JustWatch.
As long as Amazon owns IMDb, I won’t hold my breath. EpisodeCalendar is aimed at an international user base (whereas JustWatch serves only U.S. users), so I think adding streaming availability for TV markets around the world would be a heavy lift for EpisodeCalendar.
Alas, I suspect I’ll continue to use a four app solution (five including Redbox) for the foreseeable future.
March 15, 2021
In approximately early March, JustWatch enhanced their service to allow you to track which episodes you’ve watched of a TV series. I don’t find their solution quite as elegant as the same feature in EpisodeCalendar. However, it should be good enough for most people and brings JustWatch closer to achieving the goal of a single app to rule them all.
If you’d like to share your solution for managing your TV and/or movie watch lists, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
(Note: I moderate all comments so you may experience a delay before your comment appears on the post. For any SPAMMERS out there, don’t waste your time submitting as I will reject your comment.)