Facebook is finding friends in online video services like Netflix and Hulu. Passive peer pressure through social networks could become a powerful form of promotion, not just for movies and television programmes but equally importantly for associated platforms and services. With Facebook knowing more and more about what its users are watching, listening to and reading, it may be difficult for others to occupy this niche, although no doubt Twitter and Google will have a go.
Facebook now has more than 800 million users worldwide, defined as those that have logged in during the previous month. With a new Open Graph protocol Facebook wants to make it even easier for users to share what they are doing, even if they do not necessarily “like” it.
At the Facebook developer conference, founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Reed Hastings, his counterpart at Netflix, now also on the Facebook board, demonstrated how subscribers will be able to connect their accounts to Facebook and see what movies or television shows their friends have been watching on Netflix.
This is still apparently not possible in the United States, however, because of the Video Privacy Protection Act, which concerns permission for publishing video viewing data. Congress passed the law in 1988, after the unremarkable video rental records of a judge were published in a newspaper.
Netflix is lobbying for a change in legislation and in the meantime will integrate with Facebook for users in Canada and Latin America and other countries as it expands internationally.
Curiously, Netflix used to allow subscribers to share their movie ratings on Facebook, but they pulled the feature in January 2011, citing lack of interest, saying they were exploring new ways of working with Facebook.
Netflix recently raised its bundled pricing and announced plans to separate its DVD rental business and rename it Qwikster, presumably in preparation for selling it, while making Netflix an exclusively online offering, with global ambitions. The result was predictable complaints from many previously loyal customers and the loss of half a million or more subscribers, although with a customer base of 25 million, Netflix is simply evolving its business.
Having effectively destroyed the Blockbuster video store rental model, Netflix is gambling that upsetting some of its subscribers will be worthwhile in the long run as it moves its business entirely online.
Dish Network, which bought Blockbuster out of bankruptcy, is meanwhile launching a rival Movie Pass service that will bundle online video and discs by mail, with the option to exchange them in store, but currently only to subscribers of its satellite television service. There will also be a new Blockbuster app that allows subscribers to rent and watch movies through the Facebook platform.
Hulu, the advertiser supported online video service that now has over a million paying subscribers, has meanwhile launched a Facebook app that allows users to watch Hulu videos without leaving Facebook. It allows them to optionally share their viewing choices with friends and see what they are watching, and leave time related comments that can be shared with friends on both Facebook and Hulu. Users are not currently able to view a show simultaneously with their Facebook friends, but Hulu has hinted that might be possible in the future.
Facebook hopes to become central to the sharing of media experiences. It is still not clear that most people necessarily want to share every such detail of their lives in this way, or know that much about those of other people. For those that do, such forms of social recommendation are likely to become increasingly important, even if it does come back to haunt them in the future. If only it were not for those pesky privacy problems.