Whenever dinner party conversation turns to The Walking Dead, Simon Palczynski’s guard goes up. The 31-year-old San Francisco marketing strategist is playing catchup—watching past seasons of the AMC (AMCX) zombie drama on Netflix (NFLX)—and doesn’t want to risk spoilers. If Netflix has its way, Palczynski’s chatty friends will no longer have to guess which shows are safe to discuss. On March 13 the company introduced a revamped integration with Facebook (FB), showing its 33 million online members on the Netflix home page which movies and TV episodes their Facebook friends have watched. Users can also post to Facebook individual videos they’ve loved or hated and discuss them on their timelines. “We’re taking the concept of the water cooler and bringing it into the Digital Age,” says Tom Willerer, vice president of product innovation at Netflix.
Sharing video rental data—blocked by law in the U.S. until recently—is Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings’s latest effort to change how people watch movies and TV. Unlike HBO and the broadcast networks, Netflix lets viewers watch as many episodes as they wish on their own schedule. It’s become a popular destination for binge-watching past seasons of Breaking Bad or the Netflix original political thriller, House of Cards. Time Warner (TWX) CEO Jeffrey Bewkes has criticized the strategy, saying Hastings makes it easy for people to drop the service after they’ve quickly seen what they like. Netflix is betting its new social features will get subscribers to stick around and remain part of the online conversation. “Social is going to be everything,” Hastings says. “You tell your friends about what you watch, and they’ll watch much more of what we offer.”
The video service is counting on friends’ advice to be as popular as its own recommendation software. More than 15 percent of its 6 million international members adopted a more limited Facebook integration, rolled out in 2011, that didn’t let users choose what was posted about viewing habits. The new service, getting its first airing in the U.S., lets people opt not to share on Facebook individual movies or shows they viewed. “Our tests show those new features drove up viewing, and that more people stayed connected” to the service, Willerer says.
Viewing friends’ digital libraries, long a staple of music services such as Pandora (P) and Spotify, has been glaringly absent in online video. Now Facebook users can add two new features to their Netflix pages: “Friends’ Favorites” and “Watched by your friends.” Justin Osofsky, Facebook’s director of platform partnerships, expects other video services to follow suit, “because watching movies and TV shows is inherently social.” Even if you do it alone.