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The Promise of Facebook Authentication

Facebook authentication for pay TV is poised to take off and if you’re a network or a viewer you should actually be very happy about that. If you’re an MVPD, a lot less so.

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What is Facebook authentication? It’s the answer to the long-standing question “what information would you be willing to trade for access to content?”

Not trade-trade, as in “give us your email address and a list of the last 10 things you’ve bought online and we’ll give you 3 episodes of Scandal in return.” But when you opt to use your Facebook ID as a way of authenticating that you actually are a pay TV subscriber, you’re likely giving Facebook access to your email, your friend list and all the Likes you’ve handed out over the years.

It’s something you’ve probably done dozens of times already (the terms of the contract between you and the hoodie wearers are laid out on that little pop-up screen you likely ignore) though the good news is you have nothing to fear — if anything, Facebook authentication is going to make the consumer experience a whole lot better.

To begin with, users will be able to watch shows on their tablets and laptops directly from Facebook, so when they see a news feed post that their favorite show is on (or, better yet, get a notification that it’s happening), they’ll be able to quickly and easily tune in.

If you’re a network, you get to see who tuned in, what type of message they responded to, even learn how long they watched, what other shows they watched that night and whether they felt compelled to comment on anything. That’s the sort of information the MVPDs have had access to for a while (thanks to Adobe Pass) but have never shared with the networks and it’s incredibly valuable. Networks can use that data to make programming decisions, better understand the value (and virality) of certain plotlines, maintain and retain audiences and more accurately set ad rates.

Facebook benefits as well, by being able to tell the Mighty Algorithm to factor your TV viewing habits into its all-knowing computations so that the posts that appear in your news feed are even more relevant to you.

There’s a huge advertising angle to Facebook log-in too. Since the networks knows which advertisers are running spots during the show, they can start selling them joint packages, combining a :30 TV spot with a sponsored post on Facebook.

The biggest advantage to Facebook log-in is that gives networks a way to drive tune-in, something they’ve been struggling with as of late, as viewers have moved to anytime, anywhere viewing, skipping through commercials on their DVRs and otherwise finding ways to avoid all those promo spots.

With Facebook, ABC can put a thirty-second video promotion for Scandal into the newsfeed of everyone who has watched Scandal, liked Scandal, has friends who have liked Scandal or who otherwise has an affinity for it. Given Facebook’s billion plus users, that’s a huge opportunity and once you factor in those users ability to tune in to the show directly from Facebook without having to search for the passwords they keep forgetting, it’s even bigger. (Right now tune-in is limited to laptops and mobile devices, though we hear much about people working on solutions that will allow viewers to use Facebook to tune into their set top boxes, and a little less about people working on solutions to allow viewers to cast Facebook videos to their smart TVs, casting still being not all that user friendly an experience.)

If the networks are smart, they’ll unclench and allow viewers to tune-in to their VOD and/or catch-up content directly from Facebook, so that everyone who sees a promotional post is able to tune in… even if it’s not till the next day. (While Facebook is a popular platform, it’s unrealistic to expect people to be online all the time.)

 

The combination of Facebook and the networks is the MVPDs worst nightmare. It gives them an incredible amount of data and it gives them the ability to bypass the MVPDs. Worse still (for the MVPDs) it turns Facebook into the preeminent discovery engine, the one true way that viewers find the shows they want to watch, stealing even more thunder from the MVPDs.

How likely is this scenario? We think “very.”

Dish Network has already enabled Facebook log-in and if there’s one thing you can say about Dish, it’s that they are always ahead of the curve. The networks, who fear losing both audiences and a way to promote to them are going to be very attracted to Facebook’s ability to put them in front of over 1 billion users who cut across every single demographic. Even more attractive is the ability to offer their viewers a superior user experience, a social EPG of sorts, and the halo effect from tying in to a social platform most people genuinely like. It also gives them a way to move the bulk of their viewership away from pay-TV bundles and over to a pure-play OTT environment, should they so desire. (And we think many of them will so desire.)

Facebook authentication is a win-win for both sides and far from fatal for the MVPDs, who still get to control the internet. [CUE EVIL SUPERVILLAIN CACKLE.]

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