Sony Considering Possible Film Deal With Social Network

"I think it's a great first step to begin what eventually turns into more social distribution of titles," a film unit executive says about the Facebook-Warner deal.

NEW YORK -- Sony is looking at the possible distribution of films via social networks or other methods similar to a Facebook-Warner deal announced this week, according to an executive.

Speaking Wednesday on a panel at the 2011 Media Summit New York, hosted by Bloomberg and produced by Digital Hollywood, John Calkins, executive vp global digital and commercial innovation at Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, said such social media distribution could prove to be interesting.

"Our view is that Facebook certainly is a very viable pool, large pool for access for people that are interested in media content," he said when asked about the Facebook-Warner deal.

Asked if Sony will do such a deal, too, Calkins replied: "We're looking at things like that."

Trying to sell a film rental on Facebook like Warners is doing with The Dark Knight could help reach beyond existing fans of a film or franchise, Calkins argued.

"I think it's a great first step to begin what eventually turns into more social distribution of titles to people that maybe weren't already fans," he said. "So, it's both marketing and distribution."

In that context, he argued: "Why are we running theatrical trailers without 'buy' buttons? I think at some point that starts to happen."

He and other panelists suggested that major social network-based film offers will not become a big focus for studios overnight and that most of their benefit is likely to come following the DVD release of a movie.

"What we are really most excited about Facebook for is that resurfacing of a title, maybe recent or old, when our marketing budget has subsided, but now we can turn it over to consumers and in effect use their marketing budget," Calkins said. "A few weeks into DVD, we really don't talk about the title anymore. ... If you can have fans do that through something like Facebook, it's incredibly powerful. So, we like the idea. I think it's just very early days."

Discussing premium VOD film releases that many studios are planning to trial this year, Calkins suggested that the retail DVD business is the part of the film business that will be affected most -- not the theatrical window. Theater operators have expressed concern that premium VOD releases could come too soon after a film's theatrical start.

Calkins also shared some thoughts about Netflix -- one of the big recurring industry topics these days.

Asked about the biggest consumer lesson he has learned in the last three months, he said: "For me, it's the value of convenience. I think you can only look at Netflix's subscriber uptake and the astonishing rate of growth they have had and chalk it up to convenience."

He then referenced the popular industry mantra that content is king. "As much as [we] would like to say content is king ... all the innovation that they are bringing is really not [tied to] the specific content owner, but it is the convenience and the access and recommendations."