September 23, 2011, 4:24 PM

Next up for Facebook users: Knowing what Netflix offerings their friends are watching

The social network’s latest features could create new customers for e-retailers.

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Facebook has opened the door for e-retailers to make it possible for consumers to share their shopping and consumption activity with their friends on the social network. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said yesterday that app developers can create Facebook applications that let consumers share, for example, what movies and TV shows they’re watching on Netflix and what music they are listening to on digital music service Spotify.

If a consumer on the social network already subscribes to Netflix or Spotify and sees that a friend is watching or listening to something they want to learn more about, that consumer can click on the activity post in her friend’s Ticker and immediately watch or listen to the same media. If she doesn’t have an account with the e-retailer providing the feed data, she must sign up for one to get access, which could create new customers for the e-retailers.

The Ticker is one of the new features Facebook unveiled this week. It appears in the upper right corner of a consumer’s Facebook page and features a running feed of what that consumer’s friends are doing. Consumers have to opt-in to let the Facebook application share the activity in the feed. Zuckerberg yesterday described the Ticker as “a lightweight stream of everything going on around you” and says it’s a way for consumers to express activity without having to proactively write and post details to their news feed. Zuckerberg presented the new options at Facebook’s F8 Developers Conference in San Francisco.

The Facebook application Netflix developed will enable consumers who opt into it to use it automatically and have an update appear on their Ticker whenever they stream Netflix content, regardless of where they actually watch that content. A Facebook friend who also subscribes to Netflix can see that update in his Ticker and click to watch that same video on a pop-up window that appears within Facebook. If that friend has also opted into the app, his friends’ Tickers also will show that he’s watching the media. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who spoke at the conference, said he thought Netflix could help lead the way for other companies to develop social applications on Facebook. “If Netflix has huge success with pioneering social TV, then many other firms will also become social,” he said.

Netflix, No. 13 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide, says the Facebook app will be available to consumers by the end of this month in 44 of the 45 countries in which it streams content. The last country is the United States, which has a law that bars automatic sharing of video rental data. There is an update to that law currently pending in Congress.

Zuckerberg said he was interested in seeing how the Netflix app on Facebook helps build Netflix’s subscription rolls. “I’m really looking forward to seeing how the social version of Netflix accelerates the growth of the new markets they are entering now,” he said. 

Spotify, a digital music service that lets subscribers stream full tracks of songs online, has more than 2 million subscribers in eight countries and launched its service in the United States in July. Its Facebook app works similarly to Netflix’s in that it feeds subscribers’ latest activity data on Spotify to the Ticker on Facebook. Friends who also subscribe to Spotify can click to listen to the same track as their friend. After an introductory period where consumers get access to free music streams, paid Spotify subscriptions start at $5 per month.

Zuckerberg said he expects the first wave of new Facebook apps to focus on helping consumers share information on media they are consuming, like movies, music, news and books. He thinks the second wave will center on sharing information about their lifestyles, such as fashion, cooking and exercise.

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