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Netflix Adds Facebook Integration

13 Mar, 2013 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Subscribers can now voluntarily share their rental history on the social media juggernaut

Netflix March 13 said it has installed a new social media function that allows subscribers to share their rental histories on Facebook.

The new integration lets subs see what their Facebook friends have watched by adding new "Friends' Favorites" and "Watched By Your Friends" links to Netflix. Members also automatically share what they watch within Netflix and can opt to do so voluntarily on Facebook. All U.S. Netflix members will have access to the social features by the end of this week.

The social media function, which is already available to Netflix subs abroad, became possible after President Obama Jan. 10 signed an amended Video Privacy Protection Act paving the way for movie rental services to allow users to share their rental histories on the Internet.

Netflix had spent more than $1 million lobbying Congress to amend the 1988 Act, which came about following the contentious Supreme Court confirmation process for the late Robert Bork, whose Blockbuster rental history was disclosed without his permission by a newspaper.

With the advent of social media, the VPPA has come into play on a few occasions, including a 2008 class-action lawsuit brought against Blockbuster, which had released customer rental habits without their permission on a site (called Beacon) created by Facebook. The social network subsequently shuttered Facebook Beacon.

"There are few better ways to find a movie or TV series you'll love than hearing about it from your friends," said Tom Willerer, VP of product innovation at Netflix. "Facebook already makes it easy for our international members to connect with friends over TV shows and movies and we're thrilled to now bring this experience to our U.S. members."

Beginning today, Netflix members will see an option in Netflix to connect to Facebook and agree to share their activity. After doing so, rows with titles watched by friends will display on any device that streams from Netflix, provided these friends are also connected. By default, members will now automatically share what they watched only within Netflix.com. Members must voluntarily agree to share on Facebook by changing their Netflix "social settings" on Netflix.com. The Facebook connection can be disabled at any time.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Netflix subs can also disable sharing rental histories on Netflix.com — an issue that could bring protests from privacy groups. Facebook has already initiated software enabling it to disclose user personal information (i.e. “likes”) among “friends” across its vast network. To disengage this function, users must manually reset access settings separately for each Facebook friend.

Indeed, Netflix said it is working to allow members to explicitly share their favorite titles on Facebook and discuss with their friends. This flow of information — a hallmark of social media — is a potential bonanza to marketers seeking to target specific markets and consumers.

"People naturally talk about TV shows and movies and love to share their experiences," Willerer said. "Through the Netflix-Facebook integration, we want to let Netflix members express themselves on Facebook and provide a digital version of the proverbial water cooler."

Separately, a new Goldman Sachs survey found that more people are using Netflix to watch online video. The poll, conducted in January, found that among respondents, 37% said they use Netflix compared with 34% in the same poll conducted last year. The jump in Netflix popularity was even greater among the coveted 18-to-29 demo, with 41% claiming to use Netflix compared with 32% a year ago. Only among respondents aged 50 and older has Netflix usage dropped, declining 1% to 36%.

Interestingly, the Goldman survey found declines among respondents favoring YouTube (down 2%), Hulu (down 3%), iTunes (down 5%), Blockbuster (down 1%) and other websites for online access to video entertainment. Only Amazon Prime saw an uptick to 18% overall compared with 13% a year ago.

The news sent Netflix shares up nearly 5% in early-morning trading.


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