Lionsgate will be the first movie studio to include Facebook rentals in a home entertainment launch of a national feature film when it releases Abduction on Tuesday.
The use of Facebook to release the movie â€“ on the same day that it will also be sold on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download â€“ demonstrates a new confidence in the social networking group's ability to generate unique online video rentals in the critical early weeks of a home release, and help studios gather personal information about film viewers for future marketing efforts.
"Basically, we'll get [viewers'] emails," said Anne Parducci, executive vice-president of marketing at Lionsgate. "We already know who our fans of the [Facebook] page are, but we don't have a direct to consumer relationship with them."
About 14 movie studios have experimented with offering previously released movies for rental on Facebook since Warner Brothers made The Dark Knight available last March, according to Dean Alms, vice-president of marketing at Milyoni, the California-based company that makes social entertainment software for studios.
He said today's release of a new film marks a turning point for Facebook movie viewing.
"Movie studios are going from awareness to adoption," Mr Alms said. "We're seeing more and newer social applications." Lionsgate, for example, will offer access to an exclusive interview with Taylor Lautner, the teen star of Abduction, to fans who answer a trivia question about the film while watching it on Facebook.
Also, during key scenes, pop-up boxes will appear on the screen with a quote from the scene, or a 20-second clip of it, and give users an option to write a note and post it on Facebook. If a friend watches the movie later, she will see that comment float by in the bottom half of the screen during that same point in the film. Movie studios see a 20-30 per cent spike in their Facebook fans after each movie is released on the platform, Mr Alms said, while more detailed data about those fans helps studios design better, more targeted advertising campaigns.
Other films have also taken product placement to a new level, offering viewers the opportunity to "like" consumer products that appear in the film. When the main character in The Big Lebowski makes a white Russian, viewers can "like" Kahlua, which then allows Kahlua to deliver free marketing messages to that person's news feed. Abduction will cost $3.99 for a 48-hour Facebook rental. Lionsgate chose credit card or PayPal as the payment options, declining to use Facebook's proprietary currency, Facebook Credits, for which Facebook takes a 30 per cent cut of each sale.
"While Facebook wants to push credits, they know they can't push these studios too far down that path too quickly," said Michael McGuire, an analyst with Gartner.
While Facebook Credits represent a fraction of Facebook's revenues â€“ most income is from ad sales "the company has made several moves in the last year to incentivise their use, including making them mandatory for social gaming companies, but not media companies.
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