Facebook helps films, fans connect

Many Hollywood studios — including Universal, Warner Bros., Paramount and Miramax — are fishing in Facebook’s new streaming waters to see how many fans they can hook.

As with much of the Internet, it’s hard to tell whether rentals on the social media platform can turn into a serious revenue stream, but Universal, for one, is certainly trying to get fans friending; it launched a social media initiative in conjunction with the Blu-ray debut last month of “The Big Lebowski,” the 1998 cult film starring Jeff Bridges as iconic stoner the Dude.

Jessica Schell, Universal’s exec VP of business development, differentiates between Facebook and VOD. “When we offer movies on VOD, it’s about that transaction,” she says. “We are viewing Facebook more as a promotional platform and a way to engage with the fans.”

Miramax is taking a broader approach to the site, recently putting up a slate of 20 library titles. Earlier, in July, Paramount began offering the all the “Jackass” movies as well as digital features “Jackass 2.5″ and “Jackass 3.5″ for rent directly through the Jackass Facebook page.

Facebook’s movie-streaming platform, inaugurated in March with Warner Bros.’ “The Dark Knight,” followed by five other titles, differs from other ancillary digital distribution streams.

Facebook users can rent a film for 48 hours for 30 Facebook credits — or the equivalent of three dollars. In some cases, they can give up to five friends a discount coupon for renting the same film. For instance, those who rent “Lebowski” will be able to pass along a $1 discount through the Buy With Friends platform.

Facebook takes 30% of the revenue for the rentals. From the perspective of the privately held, Palo Alto, Calif.-based company, the motion picture studios are treated the same way as the developer of a game or a shopping program, all of whom are welcome to build on the social networking site’s open platform. (Facebook provides guidance to developers, and requires everyone building on its platform to conform to its policies.)

Universal says it’s catering to long-time “Lebowski” lovers as well as first-time viewers through its new “social theater” application through which the film is accessed on Facebook.

The app gives them the ability to Like and Comment on memorable quotes and scenes from the film, along with seeing comments that their friends and other Facebook fans have made while watching the movie.

Other social discovery features allow users to share their favorite clips — U provides 12 of them that run from two to two-and-a-half minutes — favorite quotes from the selected clips and their favorite comments on the movie. Likewise, through the free Jackass ClipApp, viewers have the ability to search more than 100 clips from the five films and string them together to create a customized experience, and share it on Facebook.

“Learning about what fans want and respond to is just beginning, but so far it’s been great,” says U’s Schell. “We went into it judging success as an overall experience by getting fans excited and re-engaged with the movie. Tens of thousands have downloaded the app, and we feel like it’s been a great experience and a fun way to interact.”

Schell says U is not releasing specific Facebook rental numbers, but plans on studying the usage data to formulate future strategy. No future titles have been chosen, but many films like “Lebowski” that come with a built-in fan base would appear to be good candidates.

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