In a bid to ratchet up video viewing hours, Netflix is now letting U.S. subscribers share their favorite TV shows and movies with friends on Facebook, after Congress earlier this year amended a 1980s-era video privacy law.
In 2011, Netflix introduced a Facebook feature to let subscribers share which videos they’ve recently watched or are currently watching. However, it was available only outside the U.S., because of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, which prohibits video-rental services from disclosing people’s viewing history. Netflix had actively lobbied to have the law changed to let users opt to share that info.
Beginning Wednesday, Netflix streaming members in the U.S. can link their accounts with Facebook, which will let them see what other friends who have Netflix have watched as well as their favorite selections. All of Netflix's more than 27 million U.S. members will have access to the social features by the end of this week, the company said.
Netflix’s goal: to drive up views -- and the perceived value of the service -- by surfacing popular titles from a customer’s social network. According to the company, members currently watch more than 1 billion hours of streaming video per month.
"There are few better ways to find a movie or TV series you'll love than hearing about it from your friends," Netflix vice president of product innovation Tom Willerer said in a statement. "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."
Once Netflix members connect to Facebook -- and opt-in to share their activity -- rows with titles watched by friends will display on any device that streams from Netflix (if those friends are also connected). By default, members share what they watched only on Netflix’s own site; they must reconfigure their settings to also share to Facebook.
Netflix posted a video showing how Facebook Connect works with its service at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc82e7GGHl8. Other video services that provide sharing features through Facebook include Blockbuster, Hulu and TiVo.
As of the end of 2012, Netflix had 27.15 million U.S. streaming users and 6.12 million overseas. Facebook boasted more than 1 billion active users worldwide at the end of last year.
In February 2012, Netflix paid $9 million to settle a class-action lawsuit in California that accused the company of violating the federal Video Privacy Protection Act by retaining customers' information after their accounts were terminated. According to Netflix, the case was unrelated to its lobbying efforts to change the law to enable sharing on social networks.
The Video Privacy Protection Act was passed after a D.C. video store shared Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's recent rentals -- which included innocuous films such as Ruthless People and The Man Who Knew Too Much -- with a Washington newspaper.