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Summary:

Netflix has been lobbying to change a law that prevents it from using Facebook to reveal what movies people are watching. It has finally won in Congress but, by this point, doubts about the value of frictionless sharing mean the victory may not be worth much.

TV, bored, watching tv
photo: ollyy

When Facebook introduced a much-hyped sharing feature in the fall of 2011, a goofy law prevented Netflix from taking part. Since then, the video company has been lobbying Congress like a kid nags his parents for permission to go to the big dance. Now, Daddy has finally said yes — but, by this time, Netflix may have missed all the fun.

The news, in case you missed it, is that Congress this week sent President Obama a bill that will update a 1988 law that prevents video companies from sharing rental histories unless a customer gives them permission to do so. This law prevents Netflix from tapping into the “frictionless sharing” feature on Facebook that can tell all your friends every time you read an article or listen to a song. For instance, my Facebook friends might see a story like “Jeff listened to the Backstreet Boys on Spotify.”

Netflix wants to share movie viewing in the same way and, this week, it finally got its wish (the news was overshadowed by an unrelated part of the bill related to email privacy). So how big a deal is it that Netflix can be on Facebook too?

The answer is that, despite Netflix’s big lobbying push, its victory in Congress may not matter much at all. This is because, in the 15 months since Facebook launched frictionless sharing, companies and users are taking a very different view of its value.

As my colleague Mathew Ingram reported this month, media outlets like the Guardian and the Washington Post are backing away from Facebook as a way to distribute their content. Likewise, Om just pointed to the Poke debacle to call BS on Facebook’s power of influence:

This quick decline in downloads raises some questions about Facebook’s ability to be kingmaker. It may have helped Zynga when social games and Facebook’s platform were brand new phenomena. Remember how their frictionless sharing was going to change everything, especially for media companies? Well, it didn’t change a lick.

Perhaps, things work differently in the movie space. Maybe, the power of Facebook will let Netflix transform the video-watching habits of tens of millions of people. And, just maybe, users will come to love spamming their friends with news that they’re watching the Princess Bride or Debbie does Dallas.

A more likely conclusion is that Netflix’s big effort to change an outdated law, while a good thing, will do little to help the company’s own business.

(Image by ollyy via Shutterstock)

  1. netflix has been utilizing facebook sharing outside of the US for a while. my guess is they know more about its effectiveness than you do.

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  2. Mattia Nicoletti Friday, December 28, 2012

    Dear John, don’t you think that this Netflix move it is about branding?
    With the huge networks of friends that lot of people have the name of Netflix (and his contents) go around faster through buzz.
    Thanks
    Best
    Mattia Nicoletti

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  3. Fred Roosevelt Friday, December 28, 2012

    I believe discovery is going to be the future of social – learning about new films and music from your tastemaker friends is going to be more and more important but not them just watching but rather liking them and letting you know about it

    There is a great facebook recommendation engine app called recomendo that is trying to do this

    http://recomen.do/

    it recommends facebook likes for a user based on their taste and in addition.
    you can designate friends as tastemakers in specific categories and that influences what is recommended to you.

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  4. We often go online to share great movies we’ve watched (‘by hand’ rather than automatically). I think this is a boon to Netflix. We’re always surprised just how many people are up and running on Netflix…this will make that very apparent.

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    1. who is “we” ?

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  5. if i had a penny for every time i said the permanent and forceful sharing is a fad… they might still get couple of months of virality out of this, but taking into account how much lobbing tends to cost in congress, this might prove to be an equivalent of a very very expensive facebook ad.

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  6. You wish “Debbie Does Dallas” was available on Netflix streaming…

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