Blockbuster to offer VOD on Facebook

Service to integrate social media tools

As Blockbuster, purchased by Dish Network in April, looks to reinvigorate its brand among movie renters, the company plans to make 8,000-10,000 films available on its Facebook page through a new video-on-demand service that will integrate social-media tools including comments and emoticons.

Blockbuster will rent the films in a manner similar to how Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal offer VOD titles like “The Dark Knight,” “Jackass” and “The Big Lebowski” on their Facebook pages.

Viewers will be able to click enable Blockbuster to offer up “Pop Up Video”-like commentary from filmmakers, with a director like David O. Russell, say, discussing his thoughts on “The Fighter.”

But the offering could also eventually serve as a way for studios to test-screen films online, rather than through research screenings in theaters, and provide filmmakers and executives with realtime feedback.

Blockbuster said it isn’t launching the service as a result of any research from customers demanding interactivity while watching movies. But with more consumers watching at a second screen while viewing TV at home, the company wanted to provide the option.

“For us it’s a matter of optionality and making it available,” said Neil Davis, Blockbuster’s head of corporate and digital development.

“We know that crowdsourcing is becoming more important when it comes to what people watch and buy,” he added, so Blockbuster wanted to be part of the decisionmaking process and, perhaps, open up a new source of revenue.

Blockbuster had been waiting for Facebook to perfect its social-media functionality before launching the service, which may occur at the end of November. Blockbuster currently doesn’t rent films through Facebook.

The new offering was revealed at the Writers Guild of America West on Thursday during an early look at January’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and the Entertainment Matters program that will provide Hollywood’s creative community with a guide through the massive tech confab.

Davis said Blockbuster will launch more VOD services in the future as part of the strategy at Dish Network, which plans to pony up considerable coin to promote the brand in the U.S. and overseas.

“We were inches away from the grave” before Dish acquired the company, Davis said. “For us, this is a phoenix project and letting people know we’re still alive.”

Davis also said the rental chain may return to acquiring independent films, given that it can now monetize the titles better across various platforms — stores, DVD-by-mail, online, kiosks — that it didn’t have when it first started picking up indies and offering the films strictly in its physical stores.

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