Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Netflix Gets Social: "Extensive" Facebook Integration Is Coming

Netflix revealed it is in the process of implementing “an extensive Facebook integration” on Wednesday, marking a significant change from its previous absence from the social Web.

Netflix’s dramatic growth in user base and market cap have had a lot to do with the company anticipating market changes and making audacious bets, but it has been relatively plodding and hesitant about getting social.

Netflix explained in the shareholder letter (PDF) accompanying its quarterly earnings report that its Facebook integration will accompany an effort to split household accounts into multiple personal accounts.

In part because of the company’s history as a DVD mailing service, a Netflix account is affiliated with a particular address. That’s also the way traditional television providers measure their market: In terms of households.

But online video, Netflix notes, “is more naturally individual, since it is watched on personal screens like phones, tablets, and laptops, as well as on shared large screen televisions.”

In addition to helping identify discrete people within a household, Facebook integration would presumably allow Netflix to help users do things like share their personal viewing history in their newsfeed and recommend videos to friends. Understanding social networks could improve Netflix’s famously honed recommendation algorithm. It might also be an opportunity for Netflix to create social viewing experiences.

Currently, Netflix lacks much in the way of social features; it had yanked a previous effort to offer social sharing last year after saying that relatively few subscribers used it.

However, the company has recently staffed up for a renewed social effort.

Mike Hart, previously Netflix’s director of engineering for APIs, is now director of engineering for social. Hart told Fast Company in November that Netflix sees social as an international user acquisition strategy and an opportunity to avoid disruption by a competitor that is more social.

Netflix also appears to view personal accounts as an opportunity to charge more money. The company said in the shareholder letter that later this year it will start offering new account options that include multiple simultaneous streams. (So, for instance, you could stream TV episodes in the bedroom on your iPad while your spouse watches a movie in the living room through the Roku.) The streaming-only plan Netflix recently launched costs $7.99 (which some industry watchers say is too cheap) and allows just one stream at a time.

Netflix noted in the letter that its new grand internal vision is to target the number of active mobile phones in an area, rather than the number of households (though that might be a bit ambitious in places where it’s common for people to have more than one phone!).

Please see the disclosure about Facebook in my ethics statement.

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