Lycos tries to mesh social networking and online video

Innovative "watch and chat" video service seeks to provide a communal move-watching experience

Lycos Inc. has launched a movie streaming service that the company hopes will catch on with people by mixing elements from two of the Web's most popular services: social networking and online video.

Lycos Cinema lets people located in different places watch a movie at the same time and make comments about it in a common text chat window, the company said Monday.

The company describes Lycos Cinema as a "watch and chat" service that is designed to create a social network around a communal movie-watching experience. Whoever is hosting a screening can pause, rewind or fast-forward the movie, recreating, in virtual fashion, the experience of watching a movie with a group of friends in someone's living room, said Brian Kalinowski, Lycos' chief operating officer.

To watch movies, people have to register with the service and create profiles of themselves, the basis of all social networking Web sites, like News Corp.'s MySpace.com and Friendster Inc.'s service. "This is the next evolution of socialization and community online," he said.

Lycos limited the featured video to professional, long-form movies, avoiding the amateur, short clips that have made sites like YouTube Inc.'s so popular. The movies in Lycos Cinema are protected by digital rights management technology to prevent illegal copying.

An unfulfilled promise for many years, online video has taken off in the past 18 months or so, helped by continued adoption of broadband and improvements in streaming technology. The poster child of the online video revolution is YouTube, which was founded in early 2005 and which Google last month agreed to purchase for US$1.65 billion.

YouTube, which lets users upload, comment on, rate, share and tag video clips, ranked as the 26th most visited Web site in the U.S. in October, with almost 23.5 million unique visitors, according to comScore Networks Inc. That isn't far from Lycos' traffic of 26.5 million unique visitors, which earned it 18th place in the U.S. last month.

Lycos, a Web portal which consistently ranked in the top 5 Web sites in the 1990s and later lost popularity, is attempting to regain lost ground with a focus on broadband entertainment content. It plans to launch two other new video services in the near future: Lycos TV, which will feature channels with pre-programmed broadcast-quality programs, and Lycos Video on Demand, which will let people rent or purchase films and receive them over the Internet.

Lycos Cinema has licensed about 1,000 movies from various sources and it expects its catalogue to grow to over 3,000 movies in the next six months, Kalinowski said. Lycos plans to make money by showing viewers video ads and sharing that revenue with the movie owners, he said.

Lycos will focus on licensing lesser-known movies, like independent films and cult classics, as opposed to blockbusters, he said. "We're looking to provide a platform for that long-tail content," he said.

The company, which is owned by Korean Daum Communications Corp., will also make the service available to film producers wanting to promote new films and to obtain feedback from viewers by using Lycos Cinema as an audience focus group.