Commentary

Why 'The Dark Knight' Shows Facebook Is The Platform of Our Lives

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While many of you are at SXSW, I'm here in the still-chilly Northeast, removing programs from a bloated, old Dell laptop, in the hopes that at the end of the process, it will still be usable enough to satisfy the game-playing needs of a 13-year-old. 

Doing such a thing is like holding a software retrospective -- when was the last time anyone used that AOL software anyway? - which means it also serves as a reminder of how much has changed since four years ago, when I first bought this laptop that now qualifies as arthritic. Four years ago, Facebook was still primarily a plaything for the college-age-and-younger set; this week, people are wondering if it's a rival to Amazon and Netflix.

Amazon and Netflix? Why and how would a social net compete with the Web's biggest e-commerce platform and the leading on-demand delivery system for entertainment?

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Yeah, things sure have changed. As you may have read, the reason Facebook is being mentioned in the same breath this week as two very different properties is that Warner Bros. announced that, starting with "The Dark Knight," it would offer movies on demand via Facebook using its virtual currency, Facebook Credits.  

But as the pundits are saying, the most important thing about this isn't that movies are being streamed over Facebook; it's that the move - which seems to have been initiated by Warner Bros. -- is another sign that whatever we think Facebook is, it's potentially much more. It's a platform for just about anything that can be delivered over digital channels, which could mean movies, or e-commerce, or gaming. It's also another sign of the transformation of Facebook from a mere social network (the use of the adjective "mere" is in jest), to an integral part of more and more.  

Let's rewrite that still-in-use slogan for cotton: If cotton is "the fabric of our lives," Facebook is the platform of our lives. 

Yes, much was written this week about, how, even though Facebook has 600 million users, it's getting ahead of the curve to consider it a rival to Netflix or Amazon. Netflix has distribution deals with a growing roster of entertainment companies to stream (or mail) thousands upon thousands of hours of video, offered on an all-you-can-eat basis for under $10/month; Amazon is, of course, the dominant e-commerce platform online, with probably thousands of retailer partners. 

But, as I said above, looking at what companies those companies do business with -- and to declare them the winners because of those relationships -- is to miss the point. What Facebook brings to the party is the growing amount of time people spend within Facebook, and the growing number of people who use it.  

This has two ramifications: first, while both Amazon and Netflix visitors can use Facebook Connect on those sites, how much time do most of us actually spend on those sites looking at what our friends are up to there, as compared with how much time we spend on Facebook doing the same thing? The power of the social graph is accentuated when it's being leveraged within the Facebook platform itself.

When users actually rent a movie on Facebook, that activity shows up in friends' news feeds. (A Warner Bros. spokesperson confirmed this for me this morning; it was not in the official release.) It's also obvious that people who rent a movie on Facebook would be more likely to, "Like" it or mention it in a status update. It's a powerful way to maximize the viral marketing that is already a core component of entertainment marketing.  

Second, such an initiative makes clear that Facebook is well down the road to being a distribution platform where consumer-facing companies have to be. I'm not among those who think corporate Web sites will disappear in the Facebook era; but I do think there's a growing expectation among consumers that not only should brands have a Facebook page, but that those pages should be a place to transact.

Of course, this is where Facebook's proprietary currency comes into play. In the long term, the company would purportedly like Facebook Credits to rival Paypal, making Facebook a rival not just to Amazon and Netflix, but eBay.  Right now, transacting in Facebook Credits is a niche activity -- unless you're really, really into Farmville. But more ways to collect and use Facebook Credits -- like, for streaming movies -- will move their use beyond the core.  

Where does it go from there? People walking around with a wallet stuffed with Facebook Credits, redeemable at merchants, worldwide? Maybe not. But maybe so.

7 comments about "Why 'The Dark Knight' Shows Facebook Is The Platform of Our Lives".
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  1. David Culbertson from LightBulb Interactive, March 10, 2011 at 1:41 p.m.

    Sorry - there's already a platform. It's called the World Wide Web, successful because it's built on open standards. As with AOL, companies that can't seem to figure out how to build a successful e-commerce play on their own are building on Facebook. Other companies, such as Amazon and Travelocity refused to get trapped in AOL's garden and they won't get trapped in Facebook's either.

  2. David Culbertson from LightBulb Interactive, March 10, 2011 at 2:55 p.m.

    FB black hole? I like that, although it might be as bad an experience for those exposed to it as the 80's Disney movie sharing the name.

  3. Chris Stinson from Non-Given, March 10, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.

    Facebook is the new AOL. (I just hope it doesn't stick around as long)

  4. Annie Heckenberger from Digitas Health, March 10, 2011 at 3:17 p.m.

    Movie lovers have already been able to watch movies within Facebook, via FlixFling (client). The recent chatter of Facebook implementing Skype and evolved FB chat clients could make movie watching within Facebook a truly unique experience, much like Howard Stern's live tweeting of private parts. Imagine watching a movie while skyping with the director, live chatting with the stars, who provide unique insights to scenes and frames - all without ever leaving Facebook;)

  5. David Culbertson from LightBulb Interactive, March 10, 2011 at 3:32 p.m.

    Exactly, Chris! The key difference, however, is that Facebook is entwining itself with sites all across the web in a way that AOL could only dream of. Companies using Facebook's free hooks will be shocked when FB comes asking for money.

  6. Holly Hamann from TapInfluence, March 10, 2011 at 5:34 p.m.

    Another great post, Catherine - such a fan of yours. One of the other brilliant strategies inherent in this venture between Facebook and Warner Brothers is they are leveraging the digital dependency of young adults. I still prefer watching movies on the big screen TV curled on the couch. My three teenagers all prefer to watch movies on the computer or laptop. Its the platform they are anchored in and it will only continue to grow as that generation grows up, begins using more mature applications, and raises its own digital generation. The Dark Knight is the perfect movie for that demographic.

  7. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, March 10, 2011 at 6 p.m.

    Hi all,

    Always gratifying to see so many comments. To echo what some of you have said, I think Facebook is different than precursors because of the connective glue that social is. That exists on the Web, mostly because of Facebook. All of that is making Facebook a place most companies HAVE to be. That said, it's not as though it's the only place they need to be. It seems kind of silly to me when people say that companies will only need Facebook pages, and not Web sites. That to me would be a walled garden approach. But companies need the Web for its open standards and Facebook for what, to many, is a crucial piece: social.

    Cathy

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