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Facebook Live: Studios Hope You'll Interact With, Buy Things While Watching Films

First Posted: 01/18/12 06:24 PM ET Updated: 01/19/12 12:09 AM ET

Facebook Films
Lionsgate is the first studio to release a film on Facebook in tandem with its DVD and Blu-ray release.

When you're watching a film on your computer, does the idea of commenting on it in real time appeal to you? What if you could create an original live blog of your favorite new releases, which all your friends could see, comment on, repost, reblog or retweet?

More and more studios are hopping aboard social film streaming on Facebook, and they're really hoping you will, too.

On Tuesday, Lionsgate became the first studio to release a film on the social networking site in tandem with its DVD and Blu-ray release. "Abduction," an action film starring Taylor Lautner that was poorly received by critics and flopped at the box office during its theatrical run, can now be rented on Facebook for $3.99; the loan lasts for two days. The film's Facebook page also posted a message alerting fans that they could could unlock an exclusive interview with Lautner if they answered a trivia question.

"As we know, Lautner is a huge draw for younger females and even broader than that," said Dean Alms, vice president of marketing at Milyoni, the software company that put together the "Abduction" social viewing package for Lionsgate. "His own star power has really brought a lot of attention to this."

While you watch "Abduction" on Facebook, pop-up windows appear on the film's viewing screen featuring quotes and individual clips from the film, which you can then post on your wall or send to friends. Alms estimates that the film's Facebook page gained more than 20,000 new fans on Tuesday alone as a result of the initial announcement, and that number rose on Wednesday.

"There's a real curiosity at play," Alms said. "People are interested."

But, in fact, Facebook has been quietly renting out films to its users since March. And Milyoni has led the pack, preparing pages for 14 different studios -- both major and independent -- for more than 100 films. Last year "The Dark Knight" was released on Facebook as was "Archie's Final Project," an independent "romantic dramedy" about teen suicide.

For the latter film, Milyoni prepared a "live commentary event" with director David Lee Miller and actor Gabriel Sunday where "fans could interact live," Alms said, "and create their own questions and comments along with the video on demand."

Milyoni has also had its hand in releasing cult classics like "The Big Lebowski" on the social networking site, along with some very specific sponsorships. When the Dude (Jeff Bridges) goes bowling, for instance, a window pops up suggesting you become a fan of "bowling." When the Dude drinks his famous White Russians, you can easily connect with coffee liqueur brand, Kahlua, by liking it on Facebook.

"I think we're in the first or second inning of a nine-inning game in terms of where social cinema can be going," Alms said. "It's really in its infancy right now."

Lionsgate has released 10 well-known films from its back catalog, ranging from the horror franchise, "Saw," to Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs."

"The response to those films has been pretty limited because we were sort of preaching to the choir there," said Anne Palducci, the executive vice president of marketing at Lionsgate. "A lot of people said, "I already saw this film; I already own this." So it was exciting for us to try a new release."

Indeed, since film companies now have millions of fans at their fingertips as a result of their films' Facebook pages, this is a chance for studios to interact with them directly -- find out what they're liking, talking about and willing to buy as a result of their films' product placements. It's a facet of networking unique to Facebook, and one that other streaming sites like Netflix and Amazon might struggle to compete with.

And even more high-brow entertainment options are becoming available on the social networking site as well. The Maxim Gorki Theater, based in Berlin, launched a live, interactive theatrical event on Facebook last week, with "Effi Briest 2.0," an adaptation of an 1894 German novel.

The company's head of dramaturgy told the Los Angeles Times that 1,200 people joined its Facebook group before the launch of the play online and that during the play they could interact with one another -- and the lead characters, since they all had their own Facebook pages.

As Art Info noted, the Effi Briest character would post status updates like, "The ghosts in my house are talking to me ... they are telling me what to wear to class today." She would also toggle her "relationship status" as it changed throughout the show.

So what's next? Watching "Citizen Kane" and liking sleds? "The Godfather" leading us to appropriate bodyguard services? The Royal Shakespeare Company tweeting about Romeo and Juliet? (Oh wait, that happened.)

Alms indicated that anything is possible. And if 2011 was the year that studios experimented with social networking rollouts, 2012 will be the year that these types of promotions become more commonplace across multiple platforms.

"Only Facebook allows these social interactions," echoed Lionsgate's Palducci. "We're trying to gauge how compelling that is, and what's resonating with fans."

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