Skype Wants to Make Your TV More Social

Skype will soon be available on your TV set, thanks to TVs from LG and Panasonic with an integrated Skype client that will be coming out later this year. While users will still have to purchase a separate video camera designed to work with the service (priced at around $100-$200), doing so will open up a whole new way for users to connect with friends and family from the comfort of their living room.

The plan to move video conferencing to the big screen makes sense, as anyone who’s ever used Skype for teleconferencing knows. While the ability to make free video calls is nice and convenient, speaking into a laptop or desktop web cam isn’t the greatest user experience, a fact that has been borne out in Skype’s own experience research.

As David Dinka, head of Skype’s experience research division, said in a video that accompanies the announcement, “For many people, if they want to make a video call, they want to speak to their friends and family from somewhere comfortable, and preferably on the big screen. Now, as we know, the TV is the center of many people’s homes, so Skype on the TV is the natural next step for us and our users.”

The move isn’t totally unexpected. Skype CEO Josh Silverman told Om last November that he saw “a future where Skype would be embedded in connected game consoles, televisions and video phones.” But the pace with which Skype, and services like it, are making their way onto broadband-connected TVs is pretty impressive.

It also points to the fact that TVs are no longer one-way content distribution devices, but two-way communication portals. We’ve long been saying that video wants to be social, but very few applications have harnessed a full feature set that will enable viewers to interact with each other while also viewing video content. This point was underlined in a NY Times article yesterday about cross-country friends that used Skype to talk about TV episodes while watching them.

Unfortunately, from that standpoint the upcoming Skype TV integration will have some limitations. Apparently the TVs don’t have enough processing power for users to video chat while also watching TV, according to the NY Times. So while Skype could make TV set a little more social, it won’t do anything to improve the actual experience of viewing television programming.

While not enabling “true social TV” (yet), the move by Skype could have severe consequences for the telecom industry, which has already seen voice revenues decline over the last several years. By cutting out the middle man and giving users a richer experience with which to interact with their friends and family, some could do away with landline voice services altogether.