iTunes, Netflix, Amazon… and Facebook?  Could Facebook become a mainstream movie rental and/or premium content streaming platform?  That’s the question movie studio Lionsgate is asking by testing viability with rental release of Abduction on Facebook (starring Twilight’s  Taylor Lautner).

Facebook certainly has its eyes set on becoming an entertainment hub as well as an distributed app platform; it has effectively rewritten its Open Graph to allow app developers to enable frictionless sharing  (read auto-share) from entertainment apps into the Facebook ticker and timeline with a limitless number of ‘gestures’ added to the now so-passé ‘like’.  Ticketmaster, Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, StubHub and DailyMotion apps are already on board.

And movie studios have already experimented with Facebook as a movie rental platform by making back-catalogues available for rent from Facebook fan pages.  But Lionsgate is the first studio to make a movie available on Facebook from day 1 of its home-release.

So could it work?

Technically, yes.  From the Abduction movie Facebook page ‘fans’ can pay $3.99 by PayPal (which bizarrely rounds up the transaction to $4) to stream  Twilighter Taylor Lautner for 48 hours, powered by Milyoni social streaming software. And it works.  Alas no amount of Milyoni magic, including social tagging of quotes and scenes, chat and in-movie quizzes, can make a 4% Metacritic movie better.

Experientially, possibly. Social widgets notwithstanding, Facebook is not going to compete head-on anytime soon with Apple or Netflix on user experience, but it could win by offering a unique fan experience that monetizes the considerable number of fans that movie pages on Facebook rack up. Lionsgate and Milyoni seem to have ‘got’ this, by bundling an exclusive fan-only interview with the movie rental.  Smart. We think that this fan-focus has a whole lot more potential than social features that can arguably interrupt immersive audience experiences.

What else could movie and TV studios do to monetize fans? Here are some ideas for quick wins;

  • Include more special ‘inside-track’ fan content (behind the scenes, interviews, trivia, apps etc) to give a more compelling reason to choose Facebook over alternative rental platforms
  • Make movies and shows available on the stars own pages (who often have more fans that films) – Facebook is above all about connecting people… connecting with stars has social currency
  • Allow movie fans to grab a scene shot and set it as their timeline picture (there’s a business in this – see Mountain Dew for a clunky first effort)
  • Include a movie merchandise store

Of course these ideas could be applied beyond movie and tv to any celebrity content – think bands, sports, advertising, politics…  The idea is simple – use Facebook as a platform for selling content to fans.  Use other platforms for regular audiences – and DVDs for octogenarians and people who need more coffee cup coasters.

So Lionsgate, don’t throw the Facebook rental baby out with the Abduction bathwater, or even with the social widget bathwater – the future of Facebook rentals is fan-rentals.