I would seem to be a prime candidate to serve as a guinea pig for Facebook and Warner Bros.'s experiment to rent a streaming version of The Dark Knight on the social network. Unlike almost everyone else in the world, I've never seen this Batman flick, and I'm a (somewhat) active Facebook user. But I have no interest in paying $3 -- or, rather, 30 Facebook credits -- to watch the movie, which should provide Netflix some hope after its stock took a battering yesterday following the Facebook announcement.
Investors got the quakes because Facebook has already upended digital industries like online gaming, and it appears that movie studios are doing whatever they can to make sure Netflix doesn't become any more of a Goliath than it already is. And it's true that under the right circumstances, Facebook could become a major destination for video streaming from TV and film sources in a way that MySpace never was able to.
But the initial foray shows some of the potential limitations to this approach. While Warner Bros. says it selected The Dark Knight because 3.9 million Facebook users have "liked" it, that points to part of the problem: Most people who've wanted to see it, have seen it. They might have been among the millions to see it in theaters, or maybe they saw it as an on-demand offering from their pay TV provider, or purchased it on DVD, or watched it on HBO, or rented it from iTunes or, yes, Netflix. Will the fanboys really pay an additional $3 just so they can be part of a Facebook experiment?
While you can't watch The Dark Knight through Netflix's streaming service, what Warner Bros won't say is that it picked a title that's nearly three years removed from theaters because the studio's really not interested in upsetting the usual roll-out process for newer titles. If it really wanted to make a splash, why didn't it chose a film that just arrived on DVD, or that hasn't even reached DVD yet? And there's no indication that movies that would be shown by Facebook wouldn't be ones that have been available previously in other formats. They might be more appealing than Netflix's instant offerings, but possibly not any more appealing than renting through iTunes or just watching on demand through your TV.
There's also the issue of Facebook credits. Unlike many users, I haven't played Farmville, and this isn't a big enough enticement for me to give Facebook my credit card to collect payment. I already have a Netflix account, and I pay monthly for all consumption instead of incrementally on a la carte basis. And given Facebook's, erm, difficulties with privacy, I'm in no big hurry to provide it to the company.
None of this means that Facebook couldn't become a massive player in this space. Between its huge audience and the fact that it isn't Apple or Netflix, the site certainly has the ability to attract attention from every media company with a video to distribute. However, offering older content to rent or buy isn't really going to cut it with a lot of folks, especially if the usual $3 to rent and $10 to own pricing model takes hold. To really revolutionize online streaming, Facebook will have to come up with something novel to get the attention of users like me, exactly what it did when it went from being a niche site to becoming a ubiquitous network.
Are you going to watch The Dark Knight on Facebook? How do you think Facebook can become the major player in online video streaming? Let us know in the Comments section.