Lycos Has Viewing Parties, Wants You to Pay

Now here’s some unusual logic: ask people to pay $3.99 for online video they may be able to see free and ad-supported elsewhere. Charge them more — $5.99 for two to five people, $7.99 for six to ten — if they want to watch it simultaneously with friends (on different computers).

That’s what Lycos, the aging search portal owned by Daum, wants to do with its relaunched Lycos Cinema product. The key technology here is for scheduling a time for a viewing session, and then text chatting during the viewing session. Real jaw-dropping stuff.

Chuck Ball, vice president of sales and marketing for Lycos, told us he thinks the future of online video is paid content. “Going forward we look at the ad-supported side of this business as the very early days of cable where the audience hasn’t shown up yet,” he said last week. I respectfully disagree, but that doesn’t mean this product isn’t worth a second look. See, for instance, its implementation with free episodes of ABC’s series Greek (screenshot above).

Ball said he has no major studios signed for Lycos Cinema, though he hopes they will come on soon. Currently available content includes National Lampoon webisodes, ProElite mixed martial arts videos, and Vanguard Cinema independent films.

Despite our skepticism about paying to hang out with our friends, we think the idea of simultaneous viewing is promising — even if other startups in the space haven’t panned out (see below). Business models are easy enough to switch out. Lycos is trialing “viewing parties” for ABC’s series Greek; fans can watch free episodes together after midnight the day they air. The service is linked off ABC’s official Greek page. This white-label approach seems much more interesting.

Ball also pointed out that Lycos still has an audience of 20 million uniques — maybe some of them will be interested in watching movies together.

Probably the best group video viewing product is Meebo Rooms, and others include Paltalk and YouTube. We’ve written about a couple other competitors — SideKlick and ClipSync — but their sites appeared to be defunct when we checked tonight. Update: ClipSync says has taken down its destination in favor of licensing its software to other sites (none of which are live yet).