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Netflix (Finally) Joins The Facebook Club

AFTER PRIVACY-LAW CHANGE, SERVICE LETS ITS U.S. MEMBERS SHARE FAVES 3/17/2013 8:00 PM Eastern

Netflix is betting that hooking up customers with their friends will deliver tangible benefits.

Looking to boost video viewing hours, Netflix now allows streaming subscribers in the U.S. to share their favorite TV shows and movies with Facebook buddies. The move comes after Congress earlier this year amended a 1980s-era video-privacy law that prohibited videorental services from disclosing people’s viewing history.

In 2011, Netflix introduced a Facebook feature to let subscribers share which videos they’ve recently watched or are currently watching. But until now, that was available only internationally, because of the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988. Netflix had actively lobbied to have the law changed to let users opt to share their personal info online.

Some pay TV operators are already on friendly terms with Facebook. For example, Comcast — through its next-generation X1 service — and Verizon FiOS let customers share their TV viewing on the No. 1 social site directly from the TV. Other video services with Facebook-sharing features include Blockbuster, Hulu and TiVo.

Netflix’s more than 27 million U.S. members can opt to link their accounts with Facebook, which will let them see what other friends who have Netflix have watched as well as their favorite selections, the company said.

Netflix’s goal: to drive up views and the perceived value of the service by surfacing titles that are popular among a user’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.

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 of 1988 was passed after a Washington, D.C., video store shared Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork’s recent rentals — which included such films as Ruthless People and The Man Who Knew Too Much — with a Washington newspaper.

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