One of the most social video experiences I’ve ever had on the Web was watching the Obama Inauguration speech on CNN.com alongside a live chat stream of commentary from all of my Facebook friends. It was like being in a giant living room that stretched across the country and hearing everyone’s reaction as the event unfolded.
The same dynamic on much smaller scale is happening with popular TV shows on Facebook and MySpace. Splashcast Media, which has created apps for about 20 different TV shows, two weeks ago introduced a new feature called Chatter into its embedded video players. For instance on Facebook it has apps for The Simpsons, The Office, Family Guy, and more. Once you install each app, you can watch episodes of the show, many of them streamed through Hulu. SplashCast tells me that it is getting about 7 million monthly video views from one million unique viewers across all of its apps, with Hulu videos being the fastest growing proportion of that.
The Chatter feature lets you have conversations both synchronously and asynchronously. You can invite your friends to watch with you and you can all chat on the side, or you can see what other Facebook members previously said about the show at the exact points in the video stream when they said it. Most of the comments are pretty mindless, as you’d expect, but it makes watching more fun.
It also makes online TV more engaging. SplashCast found that adding chat to TV on the Web keeps people’s attention longer. In the two weeks since it introduced the Chatter feature, SplashCast has found that viewing time has gone up 50 percent to an average of 14 minutes, and the number of viewers who watch a video all the way through to the end has gone up 42 percent. That is probably because they are not watching, but reading what people are saying, and it is also probably why SplashCast throws ads into the conversation stream.
CEO Michael Berkley says his ad inventory is “100% sold out” and that app sponsorships are going for $3 cost-per-click rates, which is a healthy price for an ad on Facebook or MySpace. The clickthrough rates on these ads are about 3 percent, he says, which is also above industry norms. How sustainable that is remains to be seen. Clickthrough rates tend to come down as a new type of ad’s novelty wears off and it scales to larger numbers. But if this is the way people are going to start watching TV, advertisers will want to be there as well.