The House of Representatives voted earlier today to approve a bill that would make it easier for users to share movies that they're watching on social networks like Facebook. That could eventually lead more video services, like Netflix, to integrate with Facebook's Open Graph and enable “seamless sharing” of that content.
The bill, H.R. 6671, relaxes a law passed in the 1980s that prohibits companies from sharing the film titles that people have watched from being shared with others. The Video Privacy Protection Act, as it is called, was passed in the wake of a scandal during the Robert Bork Supreme Court nomination hearings, in which his video rental history had been leaked to the press. Other politicians, fearing that their own rentals of salacious 1980s-era porn could also be made public, voted to make such a thing illegal.
But like Eddie Murphy, hair metal, and snap bracelets, the VPPA didn't stand the test of time, as consumer tastes changed and new sensibilities prevailed. A whole new generation came in and not only didn't care if companies shared what they were watching, but actually found value in them doing so - or at least found value in being able to see what their friends were doing. Users have embraced Facebook's Open Graph, as apps like Spotify seamlessly share the stuff that they're listening to, or reading, or whatever, once they've opted in.
That's got video services like Netflix interested, as social sharing has the potential to boost discovery of video titles that users might not have known about, but see their friends watching. Already, Netflix makes social sharing available overseas, but has not deployed the feature in the U.S. due to the VPPA. After the House vote passed, Netflix issued the following statement: “We are pleased the house has moved to modernize the VPPA, giving consumers more freedom to share with friends when they want. We look forward to swift action in the Senate.”
Other services have been less worried about the VPPA, and should have less cause to worry going forward. Hulu, for instance, allows users to share via Facebook Open Graph once they've opted in to Social Sharing. Users can turn sharing off at any time, which is likely how Netflix will also implement its social features here. With the passage of today's bill in the House, Netflix is one step closer to doing so. It now has to be approved by the Senate, where it will likely be heard in the coming weeks.