Earlier this week, when networking goliath Cisco all but confirmed it had shut down an ambitiously named Entertainment Operating System (EOS), I suspect some folks at Facebook may have chuckled quietly to themselves. After all, the big social network, which is reportedly in negotiations with all sorts of entertainment companies to integrate their services, may have designs on becoming for real what the Cisco product was only in name: a social entertainment operating system for consumers.
Okay, sure, while Facebook and its sign-on, presentation, app platform and commerce only represent a portion of what a true OS would be — as Tim O’Reilly points out so well — it is perhaps the most important and unavoidable layer of the Internet OS, one that consumers will increasingly go through to find, purchase and even consume their entertainment content on the social Web.
The growing importance of Facebook as a social entertainment layer is due to two main factors. First, the social Web is becoming the new EPG for a generation of consumers. Fading is the old-world model of corporate-programmed guides and tastemakers; ascending is a world where entertainment is personalized and social, and where much of it will be driven by Facebook.
Second, time and place restrictions on media are going away, making way for anytime, anywhere on-demand consumption across any screen. And as these linear models break down and anytime-anywhere media consumption rises, Facebook can become the recommendation and consumption layer that enables, organizes and make sense of the media chaos.
So which types of media will flow through Facebook? In short, all of them. Below I break down where I think each content type is, both in terms of the maturity of Facebook’s strategy today (x-axis) and how big the potential opportunity is for the company (y-axis).
As you can see, Facebook has tackled certain content types with more gusto than others, in part because it looked to take on those media types with less complexity and lower licensing barriers. Photos — a content type to be sure but largely personal media — was the first media Facebook integrated (and dominated) in a big way. Gaming, in particular casual gaming, was the first premium content type that Facebook set its sites on; as a result it’s become the dominant social gaming platform by enabling companies like Zynga to create huge value atop the Facebook platform.
Over the past few months, it’s become apparent that Facebook is now looking to extend its platform to video and music entertainment services, capitalizing first on the strong adoption of Facebook Connect and, over time, possibly integrating the actual third-party services themselves to varying degrees.
To be certain, in the war of platforms for entertainment distribution and consumption, Facebook isn’t the only game in town. In many ways Apple already has a true entertainment OS in iOS, owning the entire stack from hardware up to application platform. Google is certainly a contender here as well, with Android and its strong adoption across many devices.
But it is Facebook, in becoming the indispensible and ubiquitous social layer across the Web, that occupies a unique position of attack in the battle to win its place as the social entertainment operating system.
To read more about my analysis of Facebook’s entertainment prospects, see my Weekly Update at GigaOM Pro (subscription required).