Social TV Is Harder Than We Thought

Watch television and talk about it with your friends: Social TV is a simple concept. But trying early implementations of such projects makes it clear that this is more complicated than we might have thought.


Sometimes it’s just a matter of seeing would-be social TV products in action to understand what they’re lacking. When Verizon FiOS added a Twitter app, it left out the part where people could actually update their statuses, thinking a public stream would do. Verizon said the capacity to contribute simply hadn’t occurred to them, and after users complained added the functionality within two weeks.

Today Cliqset, a well-reviewed FriendFeed-esque startup, launched a Boxee app to give users the ability to talk about the programs they’re watching. Cliqset’s strength is monitoring some 70 social services and combining them in real time. So it built a software library around Boxee to enable real-time activities, which could end up being very cool.

But the app itself was barely usable for me. You have to open Boxee, install Cliqset, then start watching something on Boxee, then open up the app again. As you watch, you can enter in comments that load in real-time on the screen and are visible to other people watching the same content. However, comments are tied solely to the episode, rather than a timestamp within it. So when you load up the episode, you see a stream of comments from other people who have watched the episode or movie. Say the last thing they write about is the big twist at the end? That’s the first thing you’ll see.

This would work if you and your friends all agreed to watch one episode at the same time using Cliqset and Boxee together — of course, anything social requires friends to actually show up. Unlike other social TV projects, Cliqset requires users to sign up for their own accounts (which they can do within Boxee, but still), a further barrier to entry.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not writing off Cliqset’s TV app entirely — but it definitely highlights how hard it will be to bring social TV to the living room in compelling fashion. Other issues to figure out: what to use as a remote, how to make viewing parties happen naturally, how to coordinate various screens and input and managing widget clutter. Inks Deals With Majors; Streaming Service To Launch ‘Before Thanksgiving’ is finally launching its streaming music service ... The music blog network said it succeeded in getting all four of the majors to buy in to its business plan, and the service will go live with a base of over five million tracks within the next few weeks. CEO David Hyman said the browser-based desktop service will launch “some time before Thanksgiving,” with iPhone and Blackberry apps in the works. The subscription is $5 per month for unlimited access; users will be able to test it out for free.

MOG raised $5 million in funding in August. Hyman told us then that the company was still in negotiations with Universal, Sony, Warner, EMI, and a number of indie labels. I asked him whether there had been an overall shift in the talks—particularly with Pandora and Rhapsody’s mobile apps doing so well—but he would only say that MOG had taken “as small a margin as humanly possible” to be able to get the service launched, and to generate interest from the a majority of users from the onset.

“We’ll be able to make money because we have a hybrid model. Our ad business is growing very fast,” Hyman said, speaking about MOG’s blog network. Launched in 2005, Hyman said its network of 700+ blogs attracts over 9.5 million monthly uniques. Partner blogs will get free access to the streaming service to help promote it. It will also have social features, like the ability to see what friends are streaming in real-time, as well as playlist creation and music discovery tools.

As far as what will help MOG’s streaming player to stand out from the pack, Hyman said it was the “all-you-can-eat” access at a low price point. “There aren’t any of the restrictions that you have to deal with on a free radio service like Pandora, and yet you get unlimited access to what amounts to a whole iTunes library for $5 per month,” he said. He added that the company was already starting to work on distribution deals with the ISPs and mobile carriers.


Weinstein Co. Sells Controlling Stake In Social Network For The Rich

The struggling Weinstein Co. is selling most of its stake in exclusive social network ASmallWorld to Swiss heir and entrepreneur Patrick Liotard-Vogt, the LA Times reports, citing sources; the German-language newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine reported the news earlier today (Subscription required). The Weinstein Co. initially invested in ASmallWorld three-and-a-half years ago as part of a “multi-million dollar” round. A planned European IPO was delayed in May 2008 due to “market turbulence.” At the time, ASmallWorld said that it had been approached by large media companies including Conde Nast and Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) but did not want to sell. The site has been hard hit since then by the recession, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine says the startup laid off 40 percent of its staff last Fall.

Liotard-Vogt reportedly wants to introduce “premium” subscriptions to the site and hopes to boost its revenue by a “double-digit” percentage this year. He’s listed as the CEO of The World’s Finest Clubs, a company which provides members access to “exclusive” clubs, hotels and restaurants around the world—in exchange for annual fees of as much as 2500 euros. There could be some obvious synergies between ASmallWorld and that operation. We’ve put in an inquiry and will update when we hear back.