The entertainment industry isn't sure what exactly to do with Facebook, so they're going to try everything. That will inevitably mean there's going to be misses among the hits, and the new Warner Bros. short-form video series "Aim High", which premiered Tuesday on Facebook and AOL teen hub Cambio, is certainly wide of the mark.
The studio has been admirably aggressive about experimenting on the massively popular social network, going beyond the usual marketing moves to treat Facebook like a distribution platform where blockbusters like "The Dark Knight" are made available. The jury is still very much out on whether Facebook can be as much a place for video consumption as it is connecting with friends but Hollywood isn't going to figure that out without experimentation.
Because of its social mechanisms, Facebook probably can be more than just a static depository for movies and TV shows. And on that level, there's a nifty gimmick behind "Aim" that seemingly takes advantage of the platform: photos and information from a viewer's Facebook acount are integrated into the show itself. For instance, You can find yourself staring at your own profile picture plastered to a wall in a scene from "Aim."
But if Warner Bros. thinks this is the best way to take advantage of Facebook, it sorely misunderstands the kind of value-add the platform can bring to programming. Of all the different ways the social experience could be leveraged to set apart Facebook from the glut of websites vying to be the ultimate video destination, the "Aim" gimmick seems the least compelling option.
Were the movie producer behind "Aim," McG, to have added about 25 minutes to each episode and stripped out the on-screen personalization, the series would have probably made a nice addition to the ABC Family lineup. It's a teen-skewing actioner with "Twilight" pinup Jackson Rathbone (pictured) playing a high-school student who happens to lead a double life as a spy. The production is at a far higher level than the average Web series, with some other recognizable TV faces in the cast including "Lost's" Rebecca Mader and "Friday Night Lights''" Aimee Teegarden.
Even the integration gimmick is done with impressive seamlessness; when you suddenly spot your last name printed across a storage box in the first episode's opening fight scene, it looks like it was printed there in the first place.
But why is my last name on a storage box in a villain's warehouse!?
"Aim's" visual sleight of hand just doesn't make any sense in the context of this particular story. There's no narrative reason for, say, my profile picture to appear in a high-school cafeteria chow line with a printed warning "Do Not Serve This Person." Maybe the sheer sight of my name is supposed to bring me frissons of delight, but it would at least give me a good giggle if it was somehow integrated in the story in a clever or ironic manner.
To see a more interesting execution of this personalization technology, check out this 2007 marketing campaign in support of the British launch of Showtime's "Dexter."
But even if "Aim" pulled off the most brilliant customized on-screen references to the viewer in history, would that make it a "social" series? Yes, those references don't just call back to the viewer but to his or her Facebook friends. But social shouldn't amount to a passive appropriation of data; social is when there's a dynamic engagement between two or more people, often brought together because of content.
With all that's going on on in the social-TV craze these days, surely there's a more interesting application that melds content and communication. And when Warner Bros. or Facebook makes that happen, they'll really be onto something.