While there are some significant changes, there’s nothing that should stop third-party developers from adding value for subscribers looking to access the service through mobile, web, or other connected device applications.
The biggest change to the API is that Netflix will no longer share its rental history with third-party developers. That includes movies that Netflix users have streamed or received through its DVD-by-mail service. According to the blog post, the company will continue to support third-party application developers, but “do so in a way that is aligned with our broader objectives.”
In the Goodfil.ms blog post, the company suggests that if you build a Netflix app, you won’t be able to charge for it. But a Netflix spokesperson says there’s a key distinction between how the Netflix API is being used in applications that are sold directly to consumers versus those that attempt to resell that technology to others. Netflix is not trying to stop companies like InstantWatcher or Fanhattan from creating commercially viable businesses based on surfacing its titles through their services and charging consumers for them.
It’s mainly attempting to stop developers from becoming middlemen that resell its API technology to other companies. So a Fanhattan iPad app sold to consumers is OK, but licensing out its white-label search and discovery platform to a consumer electronics manufacturer is not. That is, unless it doesn’t want to include Netflix titles in the search.
The big trend here is that providing access to Netflix’s streaming service is OK, but the company is pulling some proprietary data back behind the curtain. Want to show users which movies their friends have liked by hooking up with Facebook Connect, and forward them to Netflix? That’s fine. But you won’t be able to repurpose Netflix’s own viewership or recommendation data for use in your own app. For most developers that hook into Netflix’s API, that shouldn’t be a problem.