Lycos Cinema: More Social Than Hulu, But With A Lot Less Content

Lycos might be one of the last names you’d expect to see associated with the online video darlings YouTube and Hulu. The search-engine-cum-internet-portal that rose to international popularity in the late 90s before crashing down to earth post-bubble-burst certainly hasn’t been on our radar more than a couple of times in the last three years.

But the South Korean-owned holdover is making strides to socialize the online TV show and movie viewing experience with several upgrades to its Lycos Cinema property.

Lycos Cinema launched over a year ago and gave visitors the opportunity to watch older content simultaneously with each other using patented “simulstream” technology. The idea is that half the fun of watching a movie at the theater, or a TV show on the couch, comes from the people around you, and it’s important to preserve that personal relationship element.

The new version of Lycos Cinema is intended to enhance that social experience of simultaneous video playback. Lycos has built out a new XMPP chat client that lets people talk about the shows they are watching. And a redesigned user interface highlights your friends’ media consumption preferences with member profiles that contain personal calendars, watchlists, and recently purchased movies. The site is reminiscent of Evite in that you can invite your friends to screenings and they RSVP appropriately. Friends can also be invited to shows on the fly with a simple URL.

Lycos Cinema is a hybrid video delivery site: much of the content is ad-supported and free, but much of it is also made available on a rental basis (a la iTunes or Amazon Unbox). Pricing is in line with the market at $4 for new releases, with 30 days to start watching and 24 hours to finish. Since this is a social service, however, you can also buy seats for your friends, or the general public, to watch shows with you. It costs $6 to rent for up to 5 people, and $8 for up to 10 people.

Lycos’s efforts are commendable but there’s one huge deficiency to the service: it hasn’t signed with any of the major studios yet so you won’t find all the good content already available on Hulu and its partner sites. Lycos says the new version of Cinema will provide it with a “seat at the table” for discussing these deals, but until they materialize, you’ll have to remain satisfied with content from National Lampoon and a number of small independents.

The video site does have the benefit of being incorporated into the larger Lycos network of properties. Lycos Cinema’s content is given top spots in Lycos search results, for example, and it can certainly be promoted to Lycos’s 20M monthly US uniques in a variety of other ways.