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Summary:

Warner Bros. made another four titles available for rental on Facebook. But if the social network is going to compete with iTunes or Amazon in the online VOD market, it’s going to need to make changes to the way movies are discovered and paid for.

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Facebook, you’ve got some work to do. Warner Bros. announced Monday that it’s serving up another five film titles for rent on the social network after making The Dark Knight available for streaming on Facebook just a few weeks ago. The rentals, which now include Inception and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, lend more credence to the idea that the social network could become another outlet for movie distribution online — but if Facebook is going to compete with iTunes or Amazon in the online VOD market, it’s going to have to try harder.

Create an Actual Movie Rental Area

Facebook’s current movie rental system is like the Wild West — which is to say, there really isn’t a system. Warner Bros. has basically taken up the initiative to build Facebook apps that allow streaming through in-app purchasing. But you have to go to the fan page of the movie you want to view and click through a number of different screens to actually view the films. In other words, it’s a pretty byzantine process and not a good user experience. If Facebook were to create a dedicated area for movie rentals, not only would discovery be less of an issue, but it could also create an easier process for actually paying for movies.

That said, even if Facebook were to make a highly visible, easy-to-use platform and discovery page for movie rentals, there’s no guarantee of success. As we’ve pointed out numerous times, YouTube has failed to make much of a dent in the rental market with its own rental store. Granted, it doesn’t have a whole lot of highly sought-after content, like The Dark Knight, Inception or the Harry Potter movies. But if Facebook is going to take advantage of the content Warner Bros. is putting up on its social network, it will need an easier way to find it.

The Ability to Pay Without Using Facebook Credits

The good thing about Facebook credits is that they make it easier for international users to pay for in-app purchases. While Warner Bros. rentals are limited to the U.S. now, the in-app purchasing model could open up the number of potential viewers, since the payment isn’t tied to a local currency. But there has to be another purchase system for the large number of users who’ve never purchased Facebook credits and have no desire to. While the social network no doubt loves the idea of selling credits to ensure it keeps control of the purchase process and take a cut, there has to be a more intuitive system for those who might want to just make one-time purchases.

Make Movie Recommendations Personalized

Facebook knows a lot about its users. It knows what their interests are, what their favorite movies are, and generally knows who their friends are and what those friends’ interests are as well. The current Warner Bros. implementation doesn’t take advantage of any of that information, though. While it inherently leverages users’ social graphs by broadcasting Facebook messages to their feeds showing they’ve watched a film, it does little to actually suggest films users might want to watch. Granted, the limited amount of content available today will make it difficult to suggest anything but a handful of Warner Bros. movies. In much the same way Clicker leverages Facebook data to suggest movies and TV shows that its users might want to watch, Facebook will need to implement similar personalized content recommendations for any rental initiative to actually take off.

  1. Facebook Movie Night…

    Create features around movies that make for great experiences.

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  2. So my question is why Facebook would need to go after iTunes or why studios would be partners in a push to create a unified Facebook-based sales front. While I completely understand and agree with many of your points if such a approach were taken, I think it’s in studio’s best interests to actually continue using an approach based around each individual movie. It allows them to control their own fate and not once again find themselves beholden to some third-party’s whims, which is what they’re fighting against with iTunes, Netflix and other outlets that don’t completely sign on to their way of thinking.

    That being said I can easily see Facebook eventually shutting down the ability for studios to take this solo approach because they’re not benefiting from it as a company outside of time-on-site and how it might translate to ad sales. But then I think it’s on the studios to figure out how to translate the lessons learned from this experiment to how they can own their own distribution future more directly on other platforms.

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