Parks Associates Blog

Thursday, October 23, 2008

CBS Interactive Bringing Chat Features to Online Programming

This could be a hint of what TV-based social networking features could be coming to a screen near you soon.

CBS Interactive is creating "social viewing rooms," an online feature that allows groups of viewers to collectively watch and interact with streaming TV content. The service combines elements of a chat room, video conferencing and standard live streaming to give fans a more communal experience when watching the network's content online. On CBS.com, a group of friends will be able to join a virtual room to watch a synchronized playback of popular programs while chatting, taking polls, quizzes and even throwing such animated objects as tomatoes and kisses at the screen.

Although what CBS is doing is obviously positioned for online TV viewing, could this sort of feature be coming to the TV soon? More importantly, will consumers like these services? I was actually skeptical of this feature, until CBS executives mentioned that reality shows, such as Big Brother or Survivor, would likely be the type of genre where this sort of interactivity would take place the most. I'm just not convinced that viewers are going to want the distractions of chatting or game playing during dramas or sitcoms, but reality TV could be a good fit for this sort of feature. It's the kind of programming genre that is well-suited for an interactive experience, with features for voting, gossip, etc.

In our recently-completed survey TV 2.0: The Consumer Perspective, we asked consumers to indicate their preferences for a wide variety of advanced TV applications, including a chat feature. We asked respondents to indicate the appeal of a feature that would allow them to chat while watching the same TV program. Overall, only 14% of respondents indicated that this would be a highly-appealing feature. However (and not surprisingly), 25% of those age 18-24 thought that the feature was highly appealing. Twelve percent of the 18-24-year-olds said that they would leave their current service provider if a new service provider offered this feature! So, given the rise of Facebook and MySpace among the younger consumer crowd, it's not surprising to see the appeal for this kind of interactive service.

I do think that there will be a finite line drawn between where entertainment ends and distractions begin. Maybe the youngest of TV viewers will simply get used to innumerable distractions being presented to them on the TV screen, but I'd be skeptical to think that we're going to retrain viewers in the near future to think of their TV viewing experience as 100% interactive. Some of the social networking features that I think make a lot of sense for the TV experience are actually a lot more subtle. Verizon, for example, now has a What's Hot feature that shows you what the most popular shows being viewed in your area are. I think that these sort of features will allow people to have more of a community interaction with their TV programming without being utterly distracted by what's happening on the screen.

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