Will Netflix's New APIs Really Kill Third-party Development?
June 21, 2012

Will Netflix’s New APIs Really Kill Third-party Development?

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com

Last week, Netflix changed their API and Terms of Use for connecting with their service. Soon after, angry bloggers and developers started predicting the death of Netflix once more.

So what´s happening to the API and Terms of Use? Will Netflix users soon have to go through life without streaming videos?

According to the cooler heads at TechCrunch, the most significant changes made to the Netflix API are what happens to viewing history. Come September when the new changes go into effect, third-party app developers will no longer have access to a viewer´s rental history. This includes the rental of actual, physical discs as well as streaming history. Netflix made these announcements last week in a blog post, saying they were making these changes to align with their “broader objectives.”

In the wake of all the hubbub and noise surrounding the announcement, Netflix has since gone back and made a few clarifications to calm people down.

“We have been evolving our API program to focus on servicing the rapidly growing universe of these devices used by our more than 26 million streaming members globally. As the API program evolves with the business, we now need to make some changes,” Netflix wrote in their original blog post.

When the post was first released, developers worried the new Terms of Use would limit the profitability of these third-parties, funneling the money instead right back into Netflix.

These new changes, however, are meant to protect Netflix from a couple of harmful behaviors. First, the changes prohibit developers from reselling data and technology from Netflix to other parties. In other words, a developer can write an app to stream Netflix videos to a mobile device, but it can´t sell pieces of the technology to other third-parties. Second, the changes prohibit these developers from using Netflix titles and services to advertise for competing services.

"In short, most apps will work and continue to work as they do now," a Netflix spokesman said in a statement to PC Mag.

In their blog post, Netflix also clarified the following points:

- We will continue to provide catalog information, queue capability, expiration within a two week window as well as the possibility to deep link to a title.

- We are not prohibiting sites from showing competing services, however we do not want anyone to use Netflix content such as titles and descriptions to advertise a competing service.

- We´re not prohibiting developers from monetizing their applications by selling them directly to consumers. We will not, however, permit resale of our information in a business-to-business fashion.

All told, these Netflix changes should be seen more as a way to protect their business than a way to choke off third-parties.

This is, of course, the second time in less than a year the death of Netflix has been predicted by the Internet. Last September, the rental and streaming movie service suddenly–and rather awkwardly– announced they were spinning off their rental business into a new brand, “Qwikster.” This announcement was met with nothing short of a poor reception and, as such, was dropped nearly a month later before the new brand ever made it to market.

So while it may be a good idea to keep a cool head about these new changes, it may also be wise to remain cautious nonetheless.