CBS tests online group viewing…wait, haven’t we seen this before?

October 2, 2008

Today we read from TechCrunch that CBS Labs has built a social online viewing experience — you can watch with other people, share comments, and generally engage each other during the show.

Cool idea, but also not a new one. I know of at least two others who have been testing this for two years now! The first one I came across from Lycos Cinema, which has been offering these kinds of social experiences since at least early 2007 when I first saw it. 

Here’s a screenshot of Michael Moore’s Slacker Uprising, which was having a slightly unsocial social screening this afternoon when I joined the last ten minutes of it (which was as much of Michael Moore as I could stomach at the end of a long day).


Not a lot of partying going on during this social viewing experience.

Not a lot of partying going on during this social viewing experience.

You can go there right now and start your own social viewing experience with strangers or invite your friends. Another ambitious example of this is also about two years old, it’s from MTV Networks, The N, which is MTVN’s network targeting girl tweens. This site is chock full of award-winning social features wrapped around video (one worthy of its own post some day, called Vomments), including social viewing parties The N calls Screening Parties. I’ve pasted in a bigger screenshot (you can click on it to see it full-size), so you can see the cute little avatars that pop up along the bottom of the screen so you can chat with your fellow viewers. 

The point here appears to be that what CBS is doing isn’t that new. But the real point is this: this has already been going on for two whole years and you haven’t heard about it until now!

That says a lot about the potential success of this kind of viewing. Not that people won’t do it — The N’s Screening Parties are very hot among their visitors. But then, anything that lets 13-year old girls dress up little avatars and chat with friends is a good fit for that market. 

For now, though, most of us are so darn happy to have the ability to watch online video on demand that we’re not left wanting more viewing options and features. We’re pretty satisfied. Give it some time, though. There will be some applications for this. I like to watch Heroes with my family even when I’m on the road. This way, we could watch together. In fact, one of the keys to this kind of viewing experience will be when it gets ported to the TV so that TV-PC social viewing can occur. Though it’s sad to imagine: me, in a hotel room, hunched over my laptop screen watching Hiro Nakamura save the world one cheerleader at a time while my family sits back with some kettle corn in the living room and watches the same show on the bigscreen. What would I possibly have to say via on-screen chat? Pass the popcorn…