Photo: Networks like France’s TF1 are increasingly using Facebook for content distribution: but which side needs the other more?
If the relationship between Facebook and TV content were a love affair, Facebook would need TV – desperately. TV can afford to play hard-to-get; it has other suitors.
Before he simultaneously became both the darling and pariah of Wall Street, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had also been wooing film and TV makers.
Not surprising. With its almost 1 billion registered users, Facebook is an ideal platform for distributing and monetising a host of entertainment content, including long-form video shows, he said.
So when Facebook came to pay its respects, the TV business flirted back. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is on Facebook’s board of directors. BBC Worldwide, Warner Bros and Paramount Pictures made some hit TV and movie titles available to rent on Facebook. This meant fans of the Jackass film franchises, Batman movie The Dark Knight and the cult sci-fi series Doctor Who were able subscribe to watch high-end video entertainment by using Facebook Credits purchased with their credit cards.
Why TV should like Facebook
Facebook’s social interactivity makes it perfect for chatting away to friends about the show being watched, commenting, recommending or dissing; and those mates could be in any part of the world, as long as they are Facebook members.
Its social-TV element has lured creators of reality-TV talent shows. They are encouraging viewers to vote for their favourite contestants via Facebook, or are asking potential contestants to submit auditions on Facebook.
Viewers’ ability to immerse themselves in a programme they love, thanks to Facebook’s social offerings, should entice programme makers seeking large quantifiable audiences today, a time when multiple digital platforms have totally fragmented media.
Inside Facebook, the website that tracks all things on the world’s biggest social media network, predicts rights owners will make nearly 3,000 movie titles available for rent on Facebook by the end of this year.
All this offers hope while DVD sales are collapsing and the average TV audience size is shrinking.
Why Facebook must work harder to win TV
Yet, the competition for TV content is growing aggressively. Various on-demand and streaming TV and movies services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon.com’s Lovefilm have large budgets to spend on acquiring content rights, plus cash for acquiring and retaining subscribers. This is despite no evidence to indicate their presence is compensating for programmes’ audience fragmentation or dwindling profit margins.
Nevertheless, a single platform’s ability to attract millions of viewers to a show effortlessly harbours infinite distribution, commercial and marketing possibilities. Facebook has that ability. Posting an app on Facebook has enabled media owners to boost traffic to their own websites. Industry observers are even suggesting that Facebook install electronic programme guides that automatically inform ‘friends’ of what you are watching once you click on the link to a show. The opportunities for making Facebook TV and movie-friendly are ultimately endless.
At this rate, why would TV programmers and distributors resist Facebook’s courtship? They can certainly hesitate for a variety of reasons. For, despite its multi-billion fancy technology and bling, Facebook still needs to win the unconditional affections of the folk in TV-and-movie land.
Other obstacles before reaching TV Land
Because, the old TV as we know it, a massive appliance that sits in the middle of a living room or on the side of a bedroom, still does the business – friends and family continue to happily huddle together to watch an event show.
Equally, the younger second-screen generation using social media to interact with TV can just as easily be distracted by friends drawing their attention away to something else.
Although they appear not to have got the technology and its applications right, iPhone and iPad maker Apple, YouTube owner Google, and Yahoo!, have been working their hardest to build social TV platforms. This will see the internet and all its capabilities, including their own social-media services, fitted into the TV set.
Internet-enabled TV sets are already rolling off factory floors thanks to consumer-electronics giants, such as Samsung, Sony and Panasonic. They are yearning for their place in the brave new social-TV world. Apple is even rumoured to be developing a branded online-connected TV set. Microsoft’s Xbox, a games console, has become a widespread internet-connected TV-viewing appliance.
Potential future rivals
In the race for consumers’ increasingly fragmented attention, other video-related entertainment services, such as startups Viki, Viddy and even the now Facebook-owned Instagram, are not going to stay at the starting line forever.
And there are other hurdles to come for Facebook. Because, by the time it establishes its footprint and fingerprints on the screen for TV content providers, all the above could be old news. According to UK news magazine New Scientist, TV technology specialists are developing screens that are large enough to wrap around the walls of your living room.
Using OLED (organic light-emitting diode) display screens, companies like UK-based NDS, LG Electronics, Samsung and scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are taking the screen-viewing experience to another level. While watching a show in the middle of your living room-size screen, you could be using your smartphone, voice or hand gestures to control the social-media elements located on the sides of the same wall screen.
In that scenario, Facebook will be competing with other social-media operators for front-of-house screen space.
Facebook needs to remove the rough edges
Moreover, the monetisation of TV content on Facebook still needs refining. Paying for Facebook Credits before you can rent a show on the platform is a tad clunky. Watching a multi-million blockbuster like The Dark Knight is not the same as playing a casual game like FarmVille. And as for selling advertising around TV content on Facebook – has anyone confirmed who actually owns that space?
These considerations notwithstanding, Facebook is miles ahead of its competitors in terms of the number of viewers, user-friendly applications and dollars in the bank when it comes to seducing the TV-entertainment business. With the incentive and means to make its environment TV-friendly, Facebook could become the first port of call for any TV network or show seeking an international reach.
In the coming months, expect to see Facebook courting the TV industry more intensely as it justifies what it plans to do with the billions raised via its IPO on NASDAQ.
Facebook is a worthy suitor that has taken the art of courting all types of content to a new level, especially for tomorrow’s generation of TV viewers. But it must come with gifts that the TV business finds irresistible. In this context, it must make the industry do more than “like” Facebook; it must make the industry fall totally in love.
The author: Juliana Koranteng is the founder/editor-in-chief of MediaTainment Finance, the only business journal covering investments in the international creative businesses. Issue No. 8 features an authoritative analysis of what Facebook is doing for the creative industries and the social-media giant’s long-term prospects.