This week Netflix announced its new social features for U.S. subscribers. The new Netflix Social is based on Facebook integration, which is the underlying social architecture for identifying friends and their video Likes.
Netflix Social in the U.S. has been a long time coming. The company rolled out the features overseas back in 2011, but it is only now able to bring it stateside. The delay was due to an outdated video privacy law, but that all changed in January, when President Obama signed an amendment to the law that was, in large part, a result of heavy lobbying from Netflix.
So while Netflix was anxious to get this capability into the hands of its 27 million or so U.S. subscribers, did these subscribers actually want a more social Netflix? Only time will tell, but I foresee some problems out of the gate for Netflix Social.
Account-type mismatches. The biggest problem is a fundamental mismatch between a Facebook user account and a Netflix user account. Today Facebook accounts are highly personalized and tailored to an individual user, while Netflix accounts are multiuser. While the company introduced personalized profiles into beta in January at CES (probably anticipating the rollout of its social features in U.S.), personalized profiles aren’t available to consumers yet on a wide scale.
The biggest problem with this mismatch may be . . .
A problem of context. The key for any social-discovery tool to be effective is strong contextual awareness. Because Netflix is based on a multiuser model today, social signals moving outward to Facebook will lack the right context, and those coming into Netflix will also be confusing. Netflix is trying to Band-Aid this problem by giving some level of granular control over what is broadcast, but that leads to too much work for most people while leaning back to watch TV.
Speaking of which . . .
Social TV shouldn’t be work. Netflix Social will teach you how to use the finer-grain controls to make sure you broadcast exactly what you want, but that process looks like a bit too much work. Consumers will need to make sure they hit the button that says “don’t share” every time they play a video if the social-to-Facebook feature is enabled (which Netflix was wise enough to make opt-in). Personalized Netflix accounts could help here, but they could mean more confusion and work unless they are elegantly integrated.
Social-TV fatigueFor all the interest in trying to make TV more social, by and large efforts to integrate social hooks into the TV viewing experience have been rejected by consumers. Netflix has had a few swings and misses itself, the most notable being viewing parties, and it seems putting this effort out half-baked (with the Facebook-Netflix accounts mismatch) could put it on a fast path to failure.
Even casual social network users are becoming more aware they are the product when it comes to Facebook, and nowhere is it more obvious than with forced integrations like this. Over time the backlash against lowered overall privacy and too much sharing may mean another social-TV swing and miss for Netflix.