Will Facebook be your next video rental store?

9 Mar 2011

The news that Facebook is moving into movie rentals through a deal with Warner Bros is surprising on many levels, but for me more so because it will predate the social networking giant’s potential for expanding into areas like voice over IP and video conferencing.

The plan is to stream Batman movie The Dark Knight through Facebook for 30 Facebook Credits – or US$3. The movie will only be available to US users of Facebook at the moment.

Consumers simply click on the “rent” icon to apply their Facebook Credits and within seconds they will begin viewing the film.

“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 about the movie, interact with friends and update their statuses.

Vision: Facebook as a communications and entertainment giant

The move is a welcome one, no doubt, for Facebook users in the US and springs to mind so many possibilities for movie rental, music purchasing and future console-like gaming experiences.

This is a sure signal that Facebook is confident it has cemented its almost 600m-strong audience and is ready to try bigger things. My immediate instinct is Facebook should be capitalising on its position as one of the world’s primary communications channels. Movies is one thing, but consider VoIP and video calling as Facebook’s next big thing.

Most people spend more time on Facebook than they realise or would admit to. We already share photos and videos, comment on things, manage groups, send instant messages, email, etc. Increasingly, we’re doing this on our mobile devices and as Facebook readily knows, mobile is becoming the primary window for the network. So that’s why it is puzzling to me, at least, why Facebook is pushing a big-screen item like high-def movies before truly taking advantage of its power as a communications mechanism.

Imagine if for a moment if Facebook added Skype-like features that allowed friends to talk to each other via video, or even more amazingly do low-cost calls via the network and via their mobile devices?

In October, Skype 5 was released, which allows voice calling between Facebook friends. The integration of Facebook in Skype is one thing, but envision seeing if some of your friends are online and connecting straight through to a video call or a low-cost voice call.

Even better – imagine a conference call between groups of friends. Go further, imagine doing all that through a high-definition TV.

Facebook’s opportunities are endless on this score. The idea of Facebook as your local video store is taking shape, but I’m fixated on the idea of Facebook as your online communications provider. This would give Apple pause for thought with its FaceTime service and would truly rival services like Google Talk.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years