Facebook Hosts First-Ever Paid Film Premiere, Which Could Point to New Distribution Opportunities

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The film industry is going through a major upheaval at the moment, with the pandemic forcing a reassessment of traditional distribution processes, and both expanding and limiting opportunities in-step, as more people turn to video-on-demand (VOD) platforms instead of traditional cinema releases.

And Facebook looks set to add another wrinkle to this process, with the launch of the first-ever official film premiere on the platform, with documentary feature ‘The Outsider’ to screen on August 19th via a Facebook ticketed event.

The Outsider film

As reported by Axios:

The premiere can be viewed by any Facebook users in countries where Paid Online Events are available. Currently, they are available in more than 100 countries worldwide. Facebook will be providing some paid promotion to help market the event. The tech giant has committed to not taking a cut of any ticketed events or revenue from independent creators until 2023.”

The result of more than two decades of research and filming, “The Outsider” looks at the construction of the 9/11 Museum in Manhattan. The film’s distributors are keen to reach an international audience with the release, and with many traditional cinemas still closed, and more people now tuning in to film and TV shows online, Facebook has become a viable option for the release.

Which could be a precursor to more, similar launches in future, and could provide a new avenue for Facebook video growth.

Facebook has been trying to build its Watch platform for years, with various exclusive shows building an audience, but many others falling flat. Overall, however, video is key to Facebook usage – just last month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that video now accounts for almost half of all time spent in the app.

And with more people turning to platforms like Disney+ and Netflix for entertainment, changing the power balance in film distribution, it seems likely that the VOD trend for film distribution will become a mainstay, even once cinemas are able to re-open.

That’s opened up whole new areas of consideration for the industry – which has lead, for example, to Hollywood stars suing production companies over back-end deals based on box office sales. Without traditional cinema releases, the flow of revenue is altered, with money from, say, Disney+ subscriptions going back to Disney itself, as opposed to being more specifically allocated to each release. So while people might view specific movies through that service, they’re not individually paying for tickets, like that would at the movies, which blurs the revenue lines, and complicates contracts. 

Those changes, as noted, could end up limiting opportunities for film investment – yet at the same, the expanded access afforded by VOD platforms, including Facebook, can provide whole new distribution tools for smaller production companies, who, as in this case, can use Facebook events to reach broader audiences, and make money from their work.

How much money is the real question. Traditional film distribution deals tend to be very lucrative, well beyond what Facebook events can likely provide. But maybe, it will be enough, and that could provide a lifeline to smaller filmmakers who are looking to find new avenues for their work, as cinema releases shift further towards big-name blockbusters and guaranteed hits.

Which is why this is an interesting experiment – and if it works out, it could also provide whole new advertising opportunities, tied into premieres and screenings, which could help brands connect with specific audiences.

There’s a lot to play out, but it’s an interesting shift to watch.  



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