LA Times: Facebook updates its status: It wants to be an entertainment hub

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg outlines a new look for the social-networking site and a media push. The moves come amid growing competition from Google, which in June launched rival social-networking service Google+.

By Jessica Guynn, Dawn Chmielewski and Alex Pham, Los Angeles Times
September 23, 2011

Reporting from San Francisco and Los Angeles—
Facebook Inc. wants to become the entertainment hub for its 800 million members, not only soaking up more of their time online but giving them even more interaction and influence among their friends.

The popular social-networking service rolled out new features and partnerships to allow its users to share the entertainment and information choices in their lives — with music, movies, television programs, books, games and news all available within the Facebook home.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg told the 2,000 software developers attending the company’s annual conference Thursday in San Francisco that the new features, including a dramatic redesign of users’ profiles, will “transform” the media industry.

The fast-growing company is pushing whole industries to adapt their businesses to the social Web, where users would be able to have greater influence over how people spend their time and money.

Analysts say media has emerged as a crucial part of Facebook’s strategy to maintain its position as the world’s No. 1 social network. Facebook’s announcements included partnerships with music-sharing service Spotify and video-streaming services Hulu and Netflix.

Users will begin to see links from the services, which are generated automatically whenever a friend listens to a song or watches a movie on them. Users will be able to grant permission when they start using an application for those updates to be posted to their friends. These updates, Zuckerberg said, will encourage “real-time serendipity” recommendations that fan out from friends to friends.

Facebook also announced it will begin rolling out a dramatic redesign of users’ profiles into magazine-style timelines that chronicle a user’s lives in a manner similar to scrapbooks. This complements a news ticker that Facebook launched this week that shows all of the activity of friends in one place similar to Twitter.

In addition, Facebook also said it would begin rolling out “lifestyle” apps that let users share what they are cooking or eating or the routes they are running.

The media push and profile makeover come as Facebook faces growing competition from Google, which in June launched a rival social-networking service, Google+.

“Facebook is putting the ‘me’ in social media,” said Brian Solis, an analyst with Altimeter Group. “It is becoming the epicenter not only of the experiences that people share but the experiences that they will share. People will create their own media networks that influence the behavior of others.”

Immediate reaction to the new changes was mixed, at least among onlookers. One of the roughly 100,000 people who were watching the conference on a webcast compared the social media company to Lady Gaga.

“You don’t need to reinvent yourself every five minutes,” the viewer added as a comment.

Movie studios have already been working with Facebook. Since Warner Bros. first took the plunge in March with “The Dark Knight,” renting movies on the social-networking service has become increasingly common. Studios are even using Facebook activity to help evaluate their production decisions. When Lionsgate announced an upcoming remake of “Dirty Dancing” last month, it noted that the movie is on the top 10 most “liked” entertainment franchises on the service, with nearly 11 million fans.

Facebook could be a boon for the media industry, said Debra Aho Williamson, a senior analyst with researcher eMarketer Inc. She said Facebook’s ability to reveal what movies or television shows its users are discussing creates an enormous opportunity for services like Hulu and Netflix.

“I see lots of implications for just immediately being able to see something you’re interested in and immediately getting access to that content via Facebook, seamlessly,” Aho Williamson said.

Netflix said subscribers outside the United States will be able to share what they’re watching with friends on Facebook. Such a feature will make it easier to find new television series or movies to watch because friends are an accurate barometer of a person’s tastes and preferences.

But the feature won’t be available in the United States, because of privacy laws stemming from the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, whose movie rental information became public. Laws dating from the 1980s prevent video stores — and more broadly, movie rental services — from sharing such details about their customers.

The opportunities aren’t limited to television shows or movies. The Washington Post and the Daily, News Corp.‘s national digital publication, will allow readers to instantly share the stories they find interesting with their friends.

“That basically takes advantage of this new, super-charged mechanism for content discovery to allow more people to enjoy our content and discover our brand and our stories,” said For the music industry, Facebook’s changes give them the ability to tap into one of the social network’s most valuable assets — the ability to spread the word among its 800 million users.

Zuckerberg showed off several music apps, including two streaming services from Spotify and Clear Channel, that can automatically post what their users are listening to, their favorite bands and the playlists they create.

The idea is that people who see what their friends are listening to are more likely to try out the service or find music that they would like to buy. Once hooked into an app, Facebook users tend to be more apt to spend money.

“Spotify users who connect on Facebook listen to more music on a weekly basis” than its customers who don’t use Facebook, said Spotify Chief Executive Daniel Ek, who briefly shared the stage with Zuckerberg at the event. “They’re also more than twice as likely to pay for music.”

While the changes seem to score big with companies, some say that users are not necessarily better off.

“It’s a nice first step, but music fans lost out here,” said Ted Cohen, president of TAG Strategic, a digital media consulting firm in Hollywood. “You’re creating silos of interest, when what we need is real interoperability between the apps. That means MOG users can share music with Spotify users and vice versa. This doesn’t do that.”

Posted by Ted • Friday, September 23, 2011 .