Lycos is hoping to reestablish its once-powerful brand, this time as a Web 2.0 “virtual living room” provider. The just-launched Lycos Cinema brings full-length movies together with real-time chat, and the platform will serve as a model for future Lycos offerings such as TV shows and user-submitted videos.
Lycos was one of the early Web’s success stories with a popular portal and search engine channeling surfers toward whatever online content they were looking for. After the tech bubble popped, the company’s cachet plummeted, and it was eventually picked up on the cheap by Korean Web portal Daum Communications, with various components of the business spun off to different buyers. But the brand name remains lodged in users’ cortices, and that’s probably where Daum sees the value in ints Lycos deal.
Putting a chat box next to an online video player, after all, could be done by anybody. The reason services like YouTube and Google Video don’t work that way might have something to do with content length. YouTube, for example, limits the length of uploaded clips to ten minutes, making it tough to get a good conversation going before the clip is over.
Lycos Cinema offers movies up to 120 minutes long, with most films running about 90 minutes. Users can set up screening rooms with controls such as pause and rewind in the hands of the room host, and up to 10 people can give each other running commentary on the movie as it unfolds. The room can be password protected and invitation only, or open to the general public. Private messages are available, as well as the ability to block messages from people you don’t like. After the movie, you can go hang out in a virtual lobby for some general chatting action.
Firefox lovers are out of luck, as the platform requires “a PC running Windows with Internet Explorer 6+, Windows Media Player 10, and Adobe Flash Player 8.” Once I fired up IE, videos played smoothly on my Athlon XP 2200+ system with 1.5GB of memory, though I was stuck with a small video screen even after closing the chat box. Microsoft WMV provides DRM-protected streams, and there is no obvious way to save a clip to disk.
That content lockdown lets Lycos fish for content deals, offering producers the ability to run VIP events, private screenings, or test-audience viewings with direct feedback and secure intellectual property rights. The launch catalog is rather weak, with titles like Shirley Temple’s The Little Princess, Bad Movie Police Case #1: Galaxy of the Dinosaurs, Ice-T’s Born 2B Gangsta and Ants—the Indian travelogue, not the animated Antz—providing the biggest-name draws.
“LYCOS Cinema capitalizes on the convergence of the fastest-growing Web categories—social networking and online video,” said Lycos COO Brian Kalinowski. “Viewing video online becomes much more engaging and enjoyable when you can create a social experience involving friends and family. With LYCOS Cinema, we move from the flat, disconnected world of Web 1.0 to an all new world of social interaction around online video, essentially the next evolution of chat.”
We’ll see how the Lycos Cinema platform translates into fun and profit, and whether other online video sites might feel compelled to follow suit and add chat to their standard services. For me, the inability to go full-screen detracted from the viewing experience, and I suppose the chat function could be fun with friends and family, but I only had total strangers with whom to bounce oddball comments. The value of giving video a social angle is obvious, but there have to be better ways to implement the idea. I’ll pass for now, thank you.</p