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ABC Site to Add 'Social' Tool for Online Video

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ABC is introducing a new feature aimed at encouraging viewers who stream their favorite shows online to make the experience more social.

This Saturday (Nov. 4), the network will launch ABC Social: Episode Commentary on ABC.com. The new tool allows Web viewers to add their two cents by commenting on the show in an adjacent window to the left of the site’s video viewer. Users can log in to this feature using their Facebook accounts and can instantly share their personal commentary with their Facebook friend circles if they so choose.

ABC is using this week’s premiere of the sci-fi remake V to kick off ABC Social—as the show’s debut episode will be the first to incorporate the functionality starting this weekend. To make ABC Social more compelling—and to stoke the passion of sci-fi fans—the site will include commentary from V executive producers Scott Peters and Steve Pearlman. ABC plans to include such "insider" commentary alongside other shows down the road—potentially including commentary from actors, network executives and show staffers, journalists and even bloggers.

Executives at ABC see Social as a differentiator in an increasingly cluttered online video landscape, according to Alexis Rapo, vp, digital media, ABC Entertainment. “This definitely allows us to engage with a deeper, broader audience,” she said, comparing the experience to the "DVD extras" model. "It’s so wide ranging in terms of the commentary that might be available. We have lots of interesting ideas keep coming into play.”

To date, there have been only a handful of examples of communal TV viewing on the Web. ABC sibling ABC Family has experimented with live viewing/chat events through a partnership with Lycos. Also, NBC has also been testing "viewing parties" on its own site, and several kids-aimed virtual worlds have hosted similar events.

But according to Rapo, ABC Social is not designed to encourage group viewing per se, but rather to enhance the on-demand viewing experience. “It’s not a synchronous experience,” she said. Instead, one person can watch a show, attach comments to the scenes that interest him or he and then share them with a friend. That person could then watch that same episode hours later and view his friend’s comments, then add his own.

“We think this could appeal to all fans of shows,” said Rapo. “Early adopters of this type of offering are generally the super fans. They have the most to say. But we think this product can leverage that sense of commentary in our daily lives that we see all the time. We are very interested to see the types of commentary people create.”

Advertisers will also likely be interested. ABC is testing inserted ads within the stream of comments within the ABC Social feed. “We think this is going to be a compelling opportunity for our advertisers,” Rapo said.