MHB WEEKLY: By the students, for the world

Food, Film and Facebook | March 22, 2011

Over the past several months, Facebook’s public relations résumé has been dominated by staggering numbers. First came the landmark achievement of reaching 500 million users last summer; next it was news of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift to public schools in the wake of The Social Network, the highly-acclaimed quasi-biographical film that made $97 million itself at the domestic box office. And earlier this year, a series of high-profile Wall Street companies — including Goldman Sachs, which invested $500 million — catalyzed a market valuation of $50 billion for the company, further anointing it king of the social media. But two new initiatives, which will be executed in upcoming months, will attempt to move Facebook’s focus from massive digits back to the users who visit the site daily.

The first undertaking has been marked as a potential threat to Netflix and Hulu: beginning with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which the Facebook community can access right now, the site is testing a new movie service that will allow users to comment in real time as they watch rented films. For three dollars, a Facebook user can watch the film as many times as desired over a 48-hour period, which doubles the 24 hours allowed by Amazon and iTunes for the same price. And while some may be uncomfortable with the payment process — movie rentals will not accept cards or direct PayPal deposits, but only prepaid Facebook credits — this new model nevertheless reinvents the viewing process: status updates and Facebook chat will both remain functional throughout the film. Warner Bros., the only studio as of yet to pair with Facebook, calls the initiative “a natural extension of our digital distribution efforts.” It also promises that new titles will be available soon.

Another endeavor, meanwhile, has been called a potential threat to Groupon and LivingSocial — the two biggest names in web-oriented coupon clipping. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Facebook will soon introduce a service “that will sell discount offers…[and] will work with local businesses to spotlight deals and encourage users to share them with friends.” An outgrowth of its current Deals program, Facebook’s new system represents even more growth in the burgeoning world of daily deals, an industry that will generate almost $4 billion by 2015. And it’s not the only one: after failing last year to purchase Groupon, which has sold 39 million deals on food, products and services in two years, Google announced the coming of Google Offers in the near future — yet another deal service fueled by the company’s existing ingenuity, and perhaps by a sense of vengeance given Groupon’s denial of a rumored $6 billion buyout offer. Amazon, the third dog in the race, has invested in and funded the aforementioned LivingSocial, sparking a social media war from which the typical consumer only stands to benefit.

In any case, Facebook has built a reputation not necessarily for being the only site to do what it does, but rather for being the best. It famously adopted the social networking throne from the dying hands of Myspace and Friendster, and it has systematically added services — online chat, picture sharing — that other sites invented and even popularized. Facebook excels at being a one-stop shop for anything regarded as both social and viral in nature, so the success of these ventures — first the movie rentals, then the discount service — are vital to its growth and continued reign as the world’s most-visited website. The coming months will determine whether these new actions will succeed — and, if they don’t, perhaps Facebook will begin to be viewed as a stagnant social outlet as opposed to an enterprising one.

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    Established in 2009 at USC, the Master's of Science in Human Behavior is designed to equip students with knowledge of consumer psychology, social media and market analysis skills. This is our blog. Subscribe

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