WTFacebook Films?

Written by: Karen Krizanovich

Battleship? Snow White & The Huntsman? 47 Ronin? Les Mis? What’s up with Universal’s Facebook VOD?

Universal Picture’s Social Cinema app promises instant access to films at a knockdown price. Trouble is that so far you can only watch Johnny English. Worse, there’s also that thing – Facebook.

Facebook’s new layout changes and rumours of being particularly naughty on privacy issues and customer tracking are making savvy users back off.  So is Universal teaming up with a sinking ship?

Johnny English Facebook AppIf you’re like me, you’ve probably turned off all apps in Facebook because they create a lot of hassle and give the impression, correct or not, of being marketing information gatherers.  Then there are those Facebook offers some companies make just to keep us hanging around in there.

Now Universal Pictures has come up with a doozy.When I was asked by Universal to have a look at their Facebook film streaming (access for 48 hours), I couldn’t figure out why they would want to stream films through a social network so fraught with controversy, with apparently waning popularity. Slinging on a family comedy like Johnny English ($45m budget, $160m global gross), however, is a brilliant way to get more mileage out of a useful original while promoting the sequel/franchise. The nature of H’wood is not to be dummies. Remember that.

Universal Pictures’ ‘Social Cinema’ application launched in America on October 18th 2011 with hotter cult films like The Big Lebowski and Scarface – two films that Universal knows people love and love to quote to each other. (Of course, neither is as good as Airplane! when it comes to quotable dialogue.)

For viewers in Australia and the UK, Universal opted to show something not as sexy as Jeff Bridges in a chunky cardigan. A softer take involved impulse buying with friends: in seconds, you and three friends can watch a fairly funny film for less than £2 (30 Facebook credits) featuring Rowan Atkinson, an adventure involving human excrement and a criminal threatening to shoot one of the Queen’s corgis. You just have to click.

Facebook App ContentsMoreover, you can pass along a 10 Facebook Credit discount so five friends can also watch the film, via Facebook’s “Buy With Friends” platform.

This is marketing genius for anyone who thinks instant gratification takes too long. But, on a practical level, it makes the viewing experience friendly in the extreme. Via the app, you can comment on the action, certain scenes and pick up on dialogue in the film’s comment stream.

The big idea? To get people to watch the film together and then talk about it via social media no matter where they are and to have all this measurable interaction happening at one spot. Universal’s homework pays off because, despite Facebook’s many format changes, it is still the most popular social media platform across all demographics. H’wood are not dummies. See?

While VOD on a laptop cannot compare to the cinema experience, this app knows its audience. I didn’t want to watch Johnny English and I didn’t want to turn on the stupid apps in Facebook but the quality, low cost and ease in which I could see a film that I sort of liked sucked me right in. And yes, I laughed during the film – but, of course, hated myself for it afterwards.

VOD like this can’t compare to the big screen, but, outside of a few duff buffering moments, the app delivered a good viewing experience, similar in quality to the films I watch regularly on on my 17″ laptop on its Rain Design mStand (the best stand I’ve found after purchasing two others that didn’t work for ‘home viewing’ as well as this).

If Universal decides to supply good, affordable content (Battleship? Snow White & The Huntsman? 47 Ronin? Les Mis?) via their Social Cinema Facebook app, I’ll watch it because this app has the potential to bring me good films when I want them for the kind of money I’d lose down the back of the sofa. There’s little to ‘unlike’. And that’s a shock.

Author: Karen Krizanovich

Karen Krizanovich is a writer published in The Sunday Times Style and Esquire among many others. Her broadcasts include BBC Radio 4's Woman’s Hour and The Film Programme and TV such as CNN, Newsnight, BBC2's The Review Show and live broadcasts from the Cannes Film Festival. She has an MBA in film finance, an MA in Philosophy of Mind and is a member of the international critics' association FIRPRESCI and the London Film Critics' Circle. In December 2011, Karen presented the Radio 4 documentary Sex & The Single Girl, highlighting the 50th anniversary of Helen Gurley Brown's revolutionary book.

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