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Facebook's Jacobson to Studios: Use Us to Track, Promote Movies

Facebook’s head of market development tells TheGrill: The site has been “near-perfect” in tracking consumer intent and viewing patterns

Want to know how a movie will open? Facebook wants you to forget about more traditional tracking services and get in bed with their social networking phenomenon.

Rather than get into the content game, Mark Zuckerberg’s giant social media site will focus on generating awareness for that content, functioning as a referral service for movie studios who want to boost a movie’s potential audience, Matt Jacobson, Facebook’s head of market development, said on Tuesday at TheWrap’s annual media conference, TheGrill.  

(Photograph by Jonathan Alcorn)

“We’ve been very consistent in not doing that,” Jacobson said of buying or creating content.

“If we can hone the idea of word of mouth at scale, that’s daunting in and of itself rather than trying to create original programming and compete with studios,” he told moderator Sharon Waxman, the TheWrap's founder and editor-in-chier.

Also Read: Doug Herzog at TheGrill: Ratings Are a Lot More Important to Us Than Tweets

Through users’ activity on Facebook, the site can track consumer intent, including something like a person’s desire to see a particular movie. According to Jacobson, a 1 percent increase in intent to see a movie directly correlates to a $4 million increase in opening weekend receipts.

“We track closer to two recognized polling tools than they do to each other,” he boasted.

(In the video below, Jacobson shows exactly how interest on Facebook tracks to opening box-office weekends.)

Facebook is also useful to the studios through advertising with a social context, which Jacobson said is unique to the site. Filmmakers can promote their movie with advertising that also tells the consumer which of his or her friends are planning to see it, which renders that person more likely to see it as well.

An investment of $650,000 in such advertising also results in a $4 million boost for a movie’s opening.

At first Facebook was unsure what service it could perform for the entertainment business, Jacobson said. Since he came from the industry, he was positive Facebook and the studios could have a mutually beneficial relationship, but it was not until a meeting with Sony’s Chairman and CEO Michael Lynton that the company decided to focus on building awareness, particularly around a film’s opening weekend.

Michael Lynton is one of five most important people outside the company that helped us move our business forward,” Jacobson said. (Lynton’s Sony also made the Facebook-inspired “The Social Network.”)

Also Read: Steve Levitan at TheGrill: We Need a Better Way of Counting Viewers on Emerging Platforms

Since then, Facebook has spent the past five years determining the best methods of tracking consumer sentiment and how their metrics relate to a movie’s performance.

How is Facebook sure of its success in tracking and spreading word of mouth?

For one, it has already tracked 63 titles and said its results show a near-perfect relationship between increased intent and box office performance.

“If people told us they’d see a movie on Friday, we’d re-poll on Monday and almost 100% did what they said they’d do,” Jacobson said.

The company’s confidence also surged by what it saw as prescience on the subject of 3D. Jacobson said Facebook saw interest in 3D waning more than a year ago. While this past weekend’s re-release of the “The Lion King” in 3D contradicts that notion, the sentiment in town has definitely been trending against the technology.

So which studios are ahead of the curve in the social sphere?

Sony, Paramount and Lionsgate.

Which ones are not so good?

Jacobson wouldn’t say. But if Jacobson was not willing to insult certain studios’ approaches to using social tools, he was willing to offer advice on the future of content.

The next generation of content will integrate the social element even more. This has already happened in videogames. Whereas Madden is a “beautiful cinematic experience,” Angry Birds is a “social experience with a game wrapped around” it.

If and when that does happen, one can only guess which site will try to take a leading role.