Facebook is in the early stages of allowing advertisers to promote their mobile apps as part of a targeted user's feed. In other words, sponsored stories will begin showing up in the mobile feeds of users that have been targeted by an app developer. If a user clicks on the link, they'll be taken to the app store where they can buy that app.
This is big new for New World filmmakers. That's because it's already easy to make a traditional film into an app: There are companies (like Mopix) that offer to turn your film into an app inexpensively and easily. So getting your film into the app store is already within your reach.
What's changed is that your options for marketing your app have just expanded. As reported in an August 7th, 2012 post to techcrunch.com, "Until now, every Facebook mobile ad had to be triggered by you or a friend’s activity [see illustration above], but [starting on August 7th, 2012] Facebook [began] testing a new non-social ad unit that lets developers buy mobile news feed ads that open Android and iOS App Store purchase pages when clicked."
In other words, you can carefully target an audience of people (even people you don't know), and they'll get a message in their mobile feed linking to your film's app.
Why should filmmakers care that Facebook will now allow a "promoted app [to] surface as a recommendation alongside apps that are being recommended organically based on a user's history and social graph?" Here's why: An app offered by you - the filmmaker with no middle man - could allow users to pay for and play your indie film on their mobile device: You reach exactly who you want - they buy your film through the app store - and you (the filmmaker) MAKE MONEY!
Before discussing what sort of films might work as apps on a mobile device, let's examine why Facebook's latest move - allowing sponsored stories in a mobile newsfeed that will lead a user to the app store - is (in my view) really noteworthy.
Ever since Facebook announced their IPO, critics have questioned the company's ability to generate revenue from mobile (where smaller screens have made placing another column of ads - or "sidebar" - impossible). According to June 19th, 2012 post to techcrunch.com: "Much of the doubt surrounding Facebook’s IPO came from evidence that the social network’s user base was shifting away from the web to mobile, where Facebook only began testing ads in February . On the web users are shown up to seven ads per page and some spend big sums on social games, but [currently] on mobile they’re only shown a couple of ads per day."
But now (after Facebook's stock price has been taking a beating) comes word that sponsored stories - the kind of stories that show up in a user's feed on mobile paid for by an advertiser - might work better than anyone anticipated. According to a June 19th, 2012 post to techcruch.com, "[m]obile Sponsored Stories are getting over 13 times the click-through rates and earn 11.2 times the money per impression (eCPM) on mobile compared to all of Facebook’s desktop ads."
With click-through numbers like that, advertisers (and filmmakers!) may want to consider making their content (films?) available via sponsored stories on Facebook.
Apparently, putting info about an app into a sponsored story that shows up on a mobile device, could be a very powerful way of getting users to click through to the app store (where they may - or may not - pay for the app).
But what sort of films could work as apps on mobile?
And what will users be willing to pay for once they arrive at the app store and see a description of your film?
Adventurous filmmakers, especially those who want to have their work viewed on mobile platforms, need to begin thinking about how they might monetize through an app.
The illustration at the top of this post shows how users can already be directed from a friend's activity to an entertainment app. Could a sponsored post, an update to the newsfeed that links to your film's app, really work as a new method of marketing for New World filmmakers?
And what exactly will users be willing to pay for? After all, they're probably already subscribing to Netflix and YouTube is free, so why pay for a film app?
No one knows the answers to these questions. But I have a few ideas...
Perhaps users will pay for an experience that allows more interactivity than that offered by a traditional film.
For example, could a film app (available through Facebook on a mobile device) have a social component?
Would users pay to "play" a film - where the experience was more gamelike (e.g., allowing the users to interact with each other, perhaps making decisions that change the outcomes of the motion picture experience)? Will mobile films evolve as a new form of entertainment experience, where purchasers of an app can "play" the film with their friends?
Will films made for mobile device play more like games - where the user has to navigate through a space - moving through events (perhaps in collaboration with online friends) - with the goal of attaining another level where a whole new experience awaits?
And is the app the entire experience? Or is it just one way of delivering elements of your story that can be monetized on mobile - while other platforms (like theatrical and HD streaming) are also providing opportunities for you to reach your audience and capture revenue?
Facebook already knows so much about each user, their friends and their interests. Can New World filmmakers figure out how to use that user data to leverage their filmmaking ideas into new experiences that have a strong social component?
How will filmmakers create experiences that work on mobile devices?
Will the starting point be a traditional linear story?
Or will New World film mobile experiences rely more heavily on open-ended stories, with interesting characters and conflicts and provocative themes and problems?
Will a fixed narrative that unfolds without user engagement be what works on mobile? Or will apps evolve that use information about individual users and their friends to make the mobile device film experience something that is uniquely interactive and social, and also wildly different from anything seen before from Hollywood?
How will these new motion picture experiences be written?
I don't (yet) have answers to these questions.
But (getting back to what we do know) the news from Facebook about the success of sponsored stories on the mobile platform is exciting.
And I am confident that some enterprising New World filmmakers will soon develop exciting new motion picture apps.
The concept won't really be proven until one of these apps spreads like wildfire through the social graph hitting potential fans with very little spent on marketing.
Right now, it's just speculation....
Whether New World filmmakers will figure out the type of content that can generate revenue from apps on Facebook mobile remains to be seen - but a high click-through rate for sponsored stories on mobile (if the initial numbers hold up) is an intriguing development.
Could it be a game-changer for indie filmmakers?