in a mash-up of social networking and movie watching, Lycos is introducing an ad-supported social hub that allows people to invite friends to watch free movies together from the comfort of their couches miles away, all the while chatting via instant message.
"You have geographically distributed people with very large social groups and peer groups online. ... This brings the living-room experience to them," said Brian Kalinowski, chief operating officer at Lycos.
The company plans to offer more than 1,000 titles to start and includes other longer-form content such as TV shows and music videos under the name Lycos Cinema, which will play host in December to the exclusive music-video debut of an artist Mr. Kalinowski wouldn't identify, but said is "related to a famous celebrity."
Marketers will be able to buy preroll and postroll advertising on Lycos Cinema, as well as run messages, ads or promotions in a box that adjoins the movie screen and in several ad units around the screen. Mr. Kalinowski said marketers might also be able to experiment with advertising inserted into the movie at appropriate breaks.
"Clip-based sites where people are watching for 30 seconds to one-and-a-half minutes are very difficult to place advertising on, especially end-user-generated ones with half the problem being copyright issues and the other half that they have no control over the content," Mr. Kalinowski said. "As an advertiser, I don't really know what I'm running my preroll against."
Lycos Cinema, he said, offers marketers a way to get involved in online video content with quality assurances. Content producers will be able to use the service for research and promotions such as testing movie endings with invitation-only virtual focus groups or setting up live director chats around a new release. He added, "I would love to eventually have an invitation-only online premiere."
John Barrett, director-research at Parks Associates, said that to be successful, a service like this has to offer something better than what consumers already do, whether that's calling each other on the phone while watching a movie, instant messaging by cellphone or using a computer separately from the TV.
"We know teens like to instant message and we know teens like to watch movies, but will they want to instant message while they watch movies? Possibly. But there has to be something that says this is better than what they currently have or do," said Mr. Barrett.
Content will be another important factor in the success of the service, said analysts. "With a young audience especially, you will need a broad and current offering," said Gartner analyst Andrew Franke.
Users of Lycos Cinema can gather in virtual lobbies, write and read reviews and eventually use their profiles (one per account) to find others with similar interests to invite to movie-watching events. Screening-room hosts can pause, rewind, and fast forward as well as virtually "hand over" the remote to another participant.
Lycos plans to aggressively market the service on its own sites and other purchased sites for "10 million impressions per day." It also plans offline marketing with partners in music and others including a consumer-package-good marketer's on-the-box promotion in early 2007, Mr. Kalinowski said.
Lycos' offer comes amid a wave of rollouts of movie- and TV-watching options. Microsoft, for example, recently announced users will be able to download movies for "rent" onto its Xbox 360 gaming system.
The success on these new services depends on consumers' evolving digital habits-and although research says consumers are willing to download and watch movies on PCs or other hard-drive devices, actual behavior could be different.