By Sarah Sluis
Facebook is the latest distribution outlet for movie studios. Earlier this year, Warner Bros. added Inception and Harry Potter to Facebook, and The Big Lebowski recently joined the Facebook fray, timed to the movie's Blu-ray release. Unlike when you rent a movie, Facebook allows for a social component. People can share comments while they watch a film, and users can post movie clips to their wall. It sounds like Facebook is trying to turn movie-watching into "Pop-Up Video."
Now Miramax is entering the game, announcing that Good Will Hunting, Spy Kids, Chicago, Cold Mountain, and No Country for Old Men will be available to rent on Facebook. Viewers now have the choice between iTunes, Amazon, Netflix, Redbox, and Hulu for a number of titles. I used to think that one provider would dominate the others, but now I think that there may be room for a number of streaming providers. Facebook streaming offers a unique experience, but it's also not for everyone. Cult movies like The Big Lebowski seem tailor-made for the site, since they're all about repeating catchphrases with friends. But if you're in the mood for a movie, Facebook has no directory page that allows you to browse through titles and make a decision. Since there are so few movies on Facebook right now, a library may only reveal the site's paltry collection, but it will be a grave error if Facebook doesn't add such a page if it's really serious about getting into the movie rental game.
The other reason multiple sites will proliferate for movie rentals has to do with consumer habits. Not everyone is interested in the next big thing, so they won't be willing to watch a movie on Facebook. Some people prefer to rent, but balk at 48-hour windows in which they must see a film. Others would rent if the movie file expired in 30 days, like some sites offer. I recently joined the music streaming service Spotify, and was interested to see that Spotify and iTunes had significantly different artists and songs in their top ten. In fact, only three songs were in the top ten on both Spotify and iTunes. Clearly, people with different demographics and different tastes are using the service. Additionally, iTunes charts purchases while Spotify tracks listens. This is pretty similar to movie rental vs. movie purchase. Some songs you like to listen to, others you're willing to buy. As each of the movie streaming sites develop, they may end up succeeding not because of their mass appeal, but because they offer content that appeals to those who like it unlimited, pay-per-use, or with a strong social component.