Netflix can jump on Facebook at last — but does anyone care?

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A more likely conclusion is that Netflix’s big effort to change an outdated law, while a good thing, will do little to help the company’s own business.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



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