Miramax Launching Multi-Title Facebook Movie App In U.S., UK & Turkey

Watching movies on Facebook isn’t new — Warner Bros. (NYSE: TWX), Paramount and Universal each are trying variations on the theme. But today, paidContent can report, Miramax is launching the largest-scale Facebook streaming movie venture yet, the latest in a series of moves to mine the most ore possible from its rich catalog. The Miramax eXperience is now will go live first on Facebook with 20 titles for rent in the U.S. and 10 each in UK and Turkey; France and Germany are due in the near future.

In another twist, films rented with Facebook credits can be watched on iPad through a browser-based player and on *Google* TV.

Facebook users can rent the films for 30 Facebook credits, the equivalent of $3; the rental is active for 30 days but the viewing window is 48 hours once you start to watch.

Miramax classics available in all three of the launch sites include Chicago, Cold Mountain and Good Will Hunting. Titles limited to the U.S. for now because of rights issues include No Country for Old Men and Pulp Fiction. Spy Kids 4 premiered this weekend on the big screen; Spy Kids, the film that kicked off the popular franchise, can be seen on Facebook in all three. The current batch should be available through September; titles will cycle in and out depending on rights. (See the full list below.)

Full Miramax eXperience slideshow presentation available via PDF

Unlike single-movie (The Dark Knight) or single-franchise (Jackass) apps, for Miramax CEO Mike Lang, this is about Miramax as the umbrella brand for a wide variety of movies. Miramax already had an electronic-sell-thru deal with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and some streaming VOD with Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) when Filmyard Holdings acquired the library from Disney (NYSE: DIS) for $660 million late last year. Lang made a major subscription video on demand deal with Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) after he came in with the mission of exploiting the company’s assets, then followed that with Hulu.

Initially, Lang also considered a separate storefront for Miramax.com. He quickly shifted gears, explaining in an interview: “We wanted to fish where the fish are. We could have created the most robust Miramax.com in the world and other than my family members, who would be there?”

At the same time, he wanted to show that content could be distributed across devices and platforms, but without taking part in UltraViolet, the industry initiative some studios have embraced. Said Lang, “We believe over time as an industry we have to figure out a way to buy content digitally and use it interoperably across all devices.”

He also wanted a social element. The Miramax eXperience includes a game that allows people to cast friends in various roles of Miramax movies; as they play, they can unlock bonus content that’s not otherwise visible.

What Lang didn’t want to do was wait until it was perfect. “Launching on VOD in beta is the easiest way to launch. We
didn’t want to offer to much to buy yet. It’s going to take a lot of work on our end to get more interoperability. Part of it for me is the current model of content for digital doesn’t work. It’s a bad consumer proposition. Consumers aren’t sure how to use it and own it. It’s a very kludgy experience for them.”

Lang doesn’t dismiss the possibility of a pure iPad app with in-app sales.

Facebook’s Dan Rose is careful not play favorites with movie apps. “We’re talking to all the movie studios,” he said. But he appreciates the touches in the Miramax effort. “One of the things Miramax approached us about was the notion of being able to buy on Facebook and watch on other platforms,” said Rose, Facebook VP of Partnerships and Platform Marketing. “We can be the identity platform behind that type of experience.” Facebook sells the credits while Miramax handles the hosting costs. “We charge 30 percent for Facebook credits. When you redeem, we pass through 70 percent of that.”

Rose also is careful not to build up too many hopes about the potential of Facebook movie rentals as a business or Facebook as a video viewing destination. “It’s still early. These are experiments on the platform.” While Lang credits Rose’s team and Joanna Shields in the UK with helping them get the app to Facebook users, Rose stresses that the heavy lifting is done by the developers and the content partners.

The movies aren’t meant to be exclusive to Facebook but some are available on Netflix only as DVDs right now and I only found one — Spy Kids — as a rental in iTunes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of them show up as iTunes rentals now that Miramax is making them available that way. Titles will cycle through on Netflix and other services much the way they will in Facebook. Lang doesn’t plan to make everything available at once.

First Look: It’s still in beta but I was able to watch a couple of movies — the quirky Adventureland with pre-Social Network Jessie Eisenberg and Spy Kids, which seemed perfectly suited to the iPad — and play the game while it was in the Facebook sandbox.

The custom player from Ooyala isn’t fancy but it does the trick, delivering a quality video experience with barely a blip on the iPad. It has its limits. Don’t expect seamless syncing across devices or any syncing at all yet. The app knows you have the right to see a movie and that you have it in the queue, but it can’t tell where you were when you stopped watching it.

The number of titles will seem very small to some, especially in the UK or Europe where Miramax rights vary. Compared to single-movie apps, it’s an advance, but it can’t compare in number to subscription VOD or rental titles on other services. I missed a lot of these movies so saw several right away that would be worth watching. Others may shrug. Either way, it’s a start.

(What I couldn’t easily tell until the app went live was how much information it wants to use from Facebook. Permission include the now-usual “everything you’ve shared with everyone” — which I find hard enough sometimes — plus permission to e-mail, post to my wall, access to my profile info and access to my news feed. It probably makes sense given the various ways you might choose to interact with the app but it can feel a little daunting.)

Update: Lang blogged about the new app on the company’s blog after it went live, stressing plans to make Miramax titles available for rent and sale on every device no matter where a consumer is via the “cloud.”

U.S.: Adventureland, Chicago, Clerks, Cold Mountain, Extract, From Dusk Till Dawn, Gangs of NY, Gone Baby Gone, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Kill Bill 2, No Country for Old Men, Pulp Fiction, Shall We Dance (2004), Sin City, Spy Kids, Swingers, The Switch, Trainspotting

U.K.: Chicago, Cold Mountain, From Dusk Till Dawn, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill, Kill Bill 2, Shall We Dance (2004), Sin City, Spy Kids

Turkey: Adventureland, Chicago, Clerks, Cold Mountain, From Dusk Till Dawn,Gone Baby Gone, Good Will Hunting, Jackie Brown, Spy Kids,Swingers