Services & Software

Coming to a Facebook near you: Miramax movie rentals

An online video publishing company called Ooyala offers a new way to watch movies. By partnering with a major Hollywood studio, it plans to turn Facebook into a social entertainment hub.

Screenshot by CNET's Boonsri Dickinson

In the latest example of a Hollywood studio following its audience onto Facebook, Miramax will soon start selling and renting its movies on the leading social network--with a twist.

Though other movie studios have made the move to Facebook, Miramax is going a step further by integrating Ooyala Social, which turns Facebook into a social TV platform so you can buy and chat about movies. Miramax is the first to use Ooyala Social, which is still in beta till November 1.

Movie renters looking for a hit Miramax film such as "Good Will Hunting" can go to the studio's Facebook fan page and connect through Facebook Connect. They can pay for the movie using Facebook Credits, an alternative payment option available for hundreds of games and applications. At launch, 20 Miramax movies, including "Pulp Fiction," will be available for 30 credits, the equivalent $3. Ooyala Social lets users chat with their friends while they're watching their favorite Miramax flick. It may be normal to have a second-screen experience, where you play a movie on your TV and chat with your Facebook friends on your laptop, but Ooyala puts that experience onto one screen, using Facebook as a platform.

"Ooyala is the only video technology company that has built this deep integration with Facebook," Ooyala CEO Jay Fulcher said.

In the coming months, Ooyala hopes to acquire more customers for its social platform, but it remains tight-lipped about any potential partners. The company offers an adjustable pricing plan: studios can set up an on-demand model, like Miramax, or go for a subscription model, like the one used by Netflix. And not everything needs to be paid in Facebook Credits--credit card, mobile number, or PayPal will be available.

Ooyala does more than simply bring a selection of movies to Facebook. For instance, if a Hollywood studio wants to do a private screening, it can do so through a special login for Facebook and create a unique experience for the targeted audience.

What differentiates Ooyala, Fulcher said, is the fact that the platform moves across devices. Customers who use Ooyala Social can start a movie on their computer, and then watch the rest on their iPad or Google TV.

Ooyala is not the only company tapping into the Facebook platform to get eyeballs. A company called Milyoni works with companies such as Warner Bros. to offer on-demand and live-event streams that also turn Facebook into a social cinema.

Studios see the social network as an attractive place for video on demand, creating an important revenue source for Hollywood at a time of falling box office receipts and DVD sales.