Can Facebook Become A Premium Content Platform?

Amid the recent kerfuffle over Apple’s plans to relieve publishers of 30% of their subscription revenues, and Google’s swift counter offer, did we forget about that other great disruptor, Facebook? The social net is still growing: we were told last week that it has 30m active users in the UK. And despite denying that it is interested in becoming a content provider, it is becoming an increasingly important platform for consuming content. The announcement that Warner Bros is offering Facebook users the chance to rent The Dark Knight (for 30 Facebook credits, or $3) reminds us that the futures of traditional and social media are intertwined.

Facebook was never going to sustain its growth based on status updates alone. It needs a steady supply of content, like a fire that needs vast quantities of fuel. Social gaming has done a great job of bringing users in and keeping them on the site, ensuring a healthy mix of content and communications. But Facebook’s sheer scale means that it has become a significant platform for consuming and sharing other content such as music and now video (according to comScore it’s now one of the top 5 video sites by views in the US). With a massive user base and its own virtual currency, Facebook could yet become a significant platform for paid content (beyond the virtual goods of social gaming), especially via connected TVs.

So how else could media companies use Facebook as a distribution platform? So far, there have been too few successful initiatives. Could they use private Facebook groups to talk with their paying subscribers? Could they sell paid content via Facebook (as we are seeing from retailers such as Marks and Spencer), without having to pay a levy to the platform?  Have media companies underestimated their potential to work with Facebook? Or are the issues around authentication and user sign-in too troublesome, despite the fact that using Facebook is ‘free’ (for now)? It should be worth further discussion. And it won’t just be Warner Bros who look closely at the success of their latest experiment.


Also a good test for movie industry

Beyond Facebook's possible plans, this is also a great test for Warner because it is taking the content to where the people are. The Dark Knight has nearly 4 million Facebook fans. Why should those fans have to look up the movie on some system or in a VOD library to watch it? But this is also a chance for Warner to test a direct relationship with viewers that it couldn't have in a Wal-Mart or Comcast era. If Warner can build a direct relationship to those customers through a channel they frequent more often than they visit local retailers or cable VOD menus, this could be a lucrative marketing platform for them.