Really? Facebook is the solution you came up with to get your film in front of the digital masses? Sure it’s a cool use of the social network and it taps into over 500 million potential film viewers. But I would never think of Facebook when I’m looking for a place to rent/buy a film. Then again, it does seem sort of cool. But if my Facebook friends tried talking to me while I was watching the film, it would totally be a deal breaker. I wonder if you can automatically be ‘unavailable’ while streaming the films .

Warner Brothers already started offering films for rent via Facebook with Batman: The Dark Knight. You can rent it for 48 hours on Facebook (unless you’re me because, as always, my region isn’t supported).

Now the press release put out today states that WB will begin testing an offering of selected movies for purchase or rental through Warner Bros. Entertainment’s Facebook movie Pages.  Consumers will be able to use Facebook Credits to easily buy or rent a title, all while staying connected to Facebook.

I don’t know that it’s so important that I stay connected to Facebook while I’m watching a film. In fact, that’s the last thing I want is people talking to me when I’m trying to watch a film. It seems like it would be more of a hindrance to enjoying the film than a bonus. Of course for WB it’s a bonus as it could update your status to something like:

Holy Moley Batman! I’m watching Batman: The Dark Knight from Warner Brothers, right here on Facebook!

The Dark Knight is the first film they are testing with. It is one of their key franchises and so using it to try out new delivery technologies seems like a good idea.

The WB Facebook Film Rental Fine Print

The cost per rental is 30 Facebook Credits or $3.  This offering is presently available only to consumers in the United States (did I move back yet?!).  Additional titles will be made available for rental and purchase on a regular basis over the coming months.

“Facebook has become a daily destination for hundreds of millions of people,” said Thomas Gewecke, President of Warner Bros. Digital Distribution.  “Making our films available through Facebook is a natural extension of our digital distribution efforts.  It gives consumers a simple, convenient way to access and enjoy our films through the world’s largest social network.”

Fans will have full control over the film while watching it through their Facebook account for up to 48 hours from purchase.  They can choose to watch it in full screen, pause the movie, and resume playing it when they log back into Facebook.  Consumers will also have full Facebook functionality including the ability to post comments on the movie, interact with friends and update their status.

So like I said, numerous ways for the film experience to be interrupted. I wonder if they will use a LeanIn sort of interface and if the comments will actually be placed into the timeline of the film or if they’ll just be general comments (like Facebook comments on links, images, videos). As I am not in the US presently, I cannot test to tell you. If someone spends the 30 credits on the rental, please drop a comment and let us know about the experience.

The Take Away

This is a pretty ingenious move by Warner Brothers. They get to probably set the prices on the rentals, instead of signing a contract with Netflix that gives them control of pricing. They probably take home the majority of the rental price, though obviously are giving up something to Facebook. Then again, they might not. If they were particularly shrewd they might have made arrangements with Facebook to show ads alongside the films which would then generate revenue for Facebook, or they might have argued that the films will make users even more ‘sticky’ and spend more time on FB. Of course that would be a sort of hollow promise as you can watch the films in full screen.

I can see this starting a bull rush of Hollywood studios and content providers offering content via Facebook, if it works. Three dollars for a two-day rental is no more than most places (RedBox $1/night, Amazon $2.99 48 hours) and you can get it streaming within seconds. That’s a major bonus. But if you want to watch it on your television you’re going to need some manner of web browser that can connect to Facebook and handle the app that is streaming the video or connect the PC to the TV.

This also shows that Warner Brothers is most likely poised to announce their own stand-alone product for streaming since they obviously are building out some video streaming service or infrastructure. I doubt that Facebook is housing the films for streaming to users and this is most likely coming from some WB servers or from a CDN they are using. If that’s the case it could be the foundation for a new WB movies on demand service.

Warner Brothers recently signed a deal in China with Youku to stream Inception there, it seems that they are fully embracing the instant streaming that we so want.

The WarnerBros site is currently powered by VideoSurf and is rather well done. In the On Demand section of the site they list providers like Time Warner, Comcast  and other cable and satellite providers. For online you’ve got far less options but they do include Vudu, Amazon, MovieLink, Cinema Now (Best Buy), BitTorrent, iTunes and the Xbox 360 console.

It’s all very fragmented and I have to believe that if there was one central place to get it all, it would be far better and more useful to the consumers.