Lycos today launched a social movie-watching site, Lycos Cinema. The idea is that you can invite your buddies to watch the movie you're watching (synchronized almost frame-for-frame), and then chat with them about the show in an embedded window.
I found it a surprisingly engaging experience. I fired up a movie and invited in some folks here, and the chat just picked up naturally. I could see this product being popular among kids. Watching a movie in your room would sure beat doing homework.
Users who aren't invited into a movie can "sneak in" to a show that someone else has launched, as long as they've marked it "public." The person who kicked off the movie can pause or unpause it, and everyone who's watching stays synced up. Users can also schedule online viewing "parties" that they invite their friends in to. Up to 10 people can watch a video at the same time. There's a mix of paid and free content.
Now, the problems. First: Poor content selection. As Josh said while we were viewing the 1960 version of Little Shop of Horrors, Lycos Cinema needs more contemporary content. Considering the demographic likely to use the product, Lycos' launch of a contest to find new independent films via Lycos Cinema seems like a mismatch of product and audience.
Also, Lycos Cinema is a "lean forward" experience. The chat text is tiny. You need to press your nose to the screen to read it. If you want to run a video on your media center PC or Mac and sit back from the screen, you won't be able to participate in the chat.
I do like the idea of simultaneous video viewing, and I would not be surprised to see this function become standard on online video sites, like Hulu, Joost, and Jaman. It's a good community feature, although it's not so important that it will blind users to poor content selection. I could also see such community-enabled video products integrated into social network sites like Facebook. That would be a powerful combination.