Home As Movies Debut on Facebook, the Era of Social Cinema Begins

As Movies Debut on Facebook, the Era of Social Cinema Begins

If anybody could pull it off, it would be Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. The comedy duo and stars of the often demented Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! have a rabid and loyal enough fan base that releasing their new movie in an experimental new way just might work.

Tomorrow night, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie will debut on Facebook, a full two weeks before it arrives in theaters. For $10, fans will be able watch the movie and chat with its stars in real time. The model represents a new sort of social cinema that, while not widespread, appears poised to become a potentially major trend.

Magnolia Pictures, who is releasing the film, is no stranger to the concept of making movies available before they hit theaters. The distributor is accustomed to releasing films via Video on Demand prior to their theatrical release, but this is the first time they’ve experimented with putting something out on Facebook first. Tim and Eric, they figure, would make an ideal test case.

“Everything that we’ve done with them has just been huge,” said Andrew McGraime, Magnolia’s Vice President of Interactive Marketing. We did a Reddit chat, which was the biggest Reddit has had. All of their viral videos have been huge hits.”

To make it happen, Magnolia partnered with a company called Milyoni, which specializes in live entertainment events on Facebook. Using its Social Live product, the company sets up streaming content that lives directly within Facebook, as well as deep social integration to encourage fan interaction. By setting everything up on Facebook and streaming the movie at a set time, the opportunity becomes ripe for genuine, real-time social buzz, which can spread across social connections as people see their friends participating and sharing content related to the movie.

Facebook Movie Debuts: A Small, But Emerging Trend

This won’t be the first time Milyoni has hosted a social cinema event of this kind. Indeed, it was the company’s reputation as a leader in this emerging space that got Magnolia’s attention and led to the partnership. Milyoni’s technology was used to stream the award-winning independent movie Archie’s Final Project on Facebook, as well as a few other live social entertainment events. The Tim and Eric movie, which contains cameo appearances by several well-known comedy stars, has the potential to be the biggest film that’s gotten this kind of social treatment.

Milyoni CEO John Corpus is banking on the notion that this approach to releasing movies will become more common in the future.

“I do think it’s going to be a trend over time,” Corpus said. “It’s great, especially for many of the independent movies that can’t get a huge distribution the opportunity to do it on Facebook.”

Technically, the movie is not being shown for the first time ever on Facebook. After debuting at the Sundance Film Festival, it was made available via Video on Demand on January 27. Thus, many of the fans who are most eager to watch the film have had the option to do so for a few weeks. Still, the Facebook screening presents a new social dynamic and creates the possibility for increased exposure. In the past, Milyoni has seen several thousand participants in their live online movie events.

As for whether these online screenings run the risk of cannibalizing box office ticket sales, Milyoni and Magnolia aren’t worried. Instead, they look at the Facebook screening as a marketing opportunity that will help generate interest in the movie.

It’s unclear whether making the content available on demand via social networks will have a demonstrable effect on piracy. In theory, offering fans the option to pay to stream it should lessen the temptation to download it illegally, but there will always be a contingent of users who instinctively turn to Bit Torrent and other file-sharing platforms for free content.

The concept of having users jointly consume media content via its social network is something Facebook has begun dabbling in itself, especially with its music streaming service integrations. There’s talk of integrating with Netflix in the same way, but obscure legal challenges have prevented that from happening so far.

Saturday’s showing of the Tim and Eric movie will only be available directly on Facebook.com. Users with browser-equipped set top boxes like the Boxee Box will probably have no trouble viewing it on their TV sets, but the experience hasn’t necessarily been optimized for such a use case. In time, distributors like Magnolia hope to offer this kind of thing in a way that’s native to set top boxes like Apple TV, Google TV, Roku and Boxee. Once that happens, they hope, we may start to see this trend really pick up steam.

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