Netflix has begun offering U.S. subscribers the ability to peer into friends' digital movie libraries in a long-awaited partnership with Facebook.
The software, updating features offered to non-U.S. customers since 2011, will become available starting today, Netflix said. Users who opt in will see two new rows on their Netflix home page that show friends' activities, and have the option to post films or TV shows to Facebook and comment on them.
Netflix CEO Reed Hastings lobbied Congress to change U.S. law and put his alliance with Facebook into full effect. With about $5 billion in long-term content obligations, he is counting on the social component to increase word-of-mouth about Netflix's growing digital library and build loyalty to the $7.99-a-month subscription service.
"Social is going to be everything," Mr. Hastings said in a January interview. "Our kids are way more social than us; their kids will be way more social than them. You tell your friends about what you watch and they'll watch much more of what we offer."
All 27 million U.S. streaming Netflix members will have access to social features by the end of this week, said Joris Evers, a spokesman. Users who opt in will see "Friends' Favorites" and "Watched by Your Friends" rows added on their Netflix home page.
International users will also receive the update. About 15% to 20% of Netflix's 6 million customers in Canada, Latin America and the U.K. adopted the older version of Facebook integration, which didn't let users choose what they post about their viewing habits.
Adding social features was made possible in the U.S. by changes to the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988, which barred movie-rental companies from sharing people's viewing records. The original law was passed after a newspaper obtained and published Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork's video-rental history.
Netflix, which recently got good reviews for its original series "House of Cards" and plans to stream four more originals by summer, including cult favorite "Arrested Development," doesn't plan to stop with the latest social update, said Tom Willerer, VP of product innovation. Netflix is testing individual profiles, available as soon as this year, that deliver a more accurate view of people's viewing habits, he said.
Depending on the outcome of research, viewers also may get the ability to post viewing choices with a "share" button inside video streams, or even to Twitter, Mr. Willerer said.
~ Bloomberg News ~