CBS Tries to Make Online Viewing Social

Mel Brooks said the hardest thing to do was to make a person sitting alone in a room laugh out loud. Laughter is social, and that’s important to consider as watching online video on your laptop or handheld device with headphones can be a pretty isolating experience. CBS is looking to transform this experience with its new Social Viewing Rooms that let users separated by geography watch and interact with TV shows together online. But can it truly be social?

Though The Hollywood Reporter writes today that the new service launches this week, TechCrunch had written about it earlier this month. Visitors to CBS can enter Social Viewing Room for a number of its shows like Survivor, CSI, or even older shows like classic Star Trek. Once in a room, users can chat with each other, take quizzes, and do wacky things like throw an animated tomato at the screen (hilarious!).

CBS isn’t the only company trying to make the newteevee experience a more social one. Lycos has its cinema product that lets users watch a movie together, and ABC Family used Lycos for online group viewing of The Secret Life of the American Teenager. PalTalk was doing live web shows with web chats, and Yahoo enabled trash talk for its fantasy sports league.

Liz wrote before about how video wants to be social, but is text chatting really social? Can real interaction be captured virtually? Remote socializing works on services like the Xbox Live because you are part of the game, and the interaction isn’t just talking with your friend or opponent. Together you and friends create the story through your actions.

But TV shows are passive. You sit back and enjoy, and there is an energy created when friends all gather in the same place. There is no mediator filtering your actions or emotions. When you get excited, others can feel it. When you laugh, you’re not just typing in “LOL” into a chat window, you’re expressing yourself through sound and body language. Part of the fun is in the fact that you are not laughing alone.

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