May 23, 2012 · 3 minutes

I'm starting to think that Spotify has the best model for content distribution on the Web. It's so good, in fact, the Netflix should just adopt every play in the Spotify book. Preferably now.

I have already written about how the future of magazines should look like Spotify, and with further thought it has become apparent that the future of films and television should like Spotify, too. Perhaps even more so than YouTube.

What's truly great about Spotify is not that it's an ad-supported music streaming service with a premium subscription model, or that it has almost all the music ever recorded. Those features are certainly indispensable, but competitors Rdio, Pandora, and Mog more than hold their own on those fronts. And it's not even the deep social integration that makes Spotify relevant, fun, and great as a music-discovery service. Spotify's real killer play – just like Facebook's – is that it is a platform for third-party apps that dramatically improve the experience.

That is what Netflix is missing.

Netflix already promotes third-party apps, but they all live outside the Netflix platform. Users have to download them and add them to whatever device they're using to view Netflix content. That's fine, but casual users like me are never going to go to that effort. And, to be honest, I only found out about those apps through doing research for this post.

The company has also focused most of its technological resources on fine-tuning its impressive recommendation engine, which suggests films that mesh well with your viewing habits, reviews, and stated preferences. It's great technology, but it has been so much of a distraction that Netflix hasn't paid enough attention to other discovery options – social, to some extent, but especially apps. Also, the tailored recommendations engine becomes almost irrelevant if, like me, you share an account with a significant other who'd rather watch Ryan Gosling movies than, say, documentaries about poverty in Africa. (Just kidding: I'd rather watch Gosling too – Africa's poverty has nothing on that sweet Canadian bacon.)

This should be a lay-up for Netflix. Spotify has already shown the way. On Spotify, I've installed the Pitchfork app, which shows me reviews of new albums and lets me add them to my library with one click. Last week, I added Pitchfork's "200 Greatest Songs of the 1960s" playlist to my library, and I'm convinced it's the smartest thing I've done since giving up sports. Also on Spotify, I've added the Songkick app, which scours my library to find artists I like who happen to have concerts coming up in my area. And I've also got the Guardian's music reviews app, which does pretty much the same thing as Pitchfork's, but will slightly different editorial taste. These are just a few of the early starters on Spotify's platform.

I don't see any reason why Netflix can't just copy that idea for its streaming service. How good would it be to have an app from Roger Ebert that features his top 10 film picks of the month, each instantly accessible with the tap of a button? Or how about an app from the local nonprofit video art collective that wants to alert people to the films that inspired its creation? Perhaps the producers of Mad Men could offer an app that supplements episodes with videos of related historical content like, say, Zou Bisou Bisou.

No doubt brands would find it useful, too. Nike, for instance, could create an app that features the best sports movies and links them to footage or reports of the real-life sporting events or figures they depict. Studios could curate film playlists organized according around certain themes, actors, or directors. The New Zealand Film Commission could show off all the films it helped to fund.

And, by the way, this app-platform approach kicks the ass of YouTube's channels. Channels is a cable-TV way of thinking, encouraging broadcasters to bombard us with bloated and superfluous content, and especially an abundance of ads. With apps, content owners could have the option of charging an upfront fee, offering subscriptions, and tasteful advertising, or they could monetize in other ways, such as with in-app purchases.

Surely this has to happen soon. The Spotify model is clearly a winner for consumers – although, I admit, it's still early to say whether or not it will be a raging financial success. In the gaming space, meanwhile, Zynga has moved in precisely this direction. Amazon is already doing it, rather limply, for books by way of their reading lists. And Longform's iPad app is already halfway there for magazine journalism.

Netflix should get on it soon, lest Hulu gets any crazy ideas...

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]