Can Hulu Cure the Blues?

As Mystery Science Theater 3000 showed, watching TV with witty friends – and watching others watch goofy movies with witty robots – can be good, time-wasting fun.

Now Hulu and Splashcast are combining on an app – called Social TV – that not only allows friends to view the same show online via Facebook or MySpace, but post comments as they watch. You don’t even have to watch at the same time: the running commentary you typed will come up at the same points in that episode of “Family Guy” or “The Office” when your pals tune in, Mashable reports.

The venture, which could further change TV viewing habits as more people watch shows on the Web, follows news of a record-setting month for Hulu, the NBC- and FOX-owned video site. Hulu reportedly drew 41.6 million unique viewers in March, making it the fourth most popular video site, though it’s still far behind YouTube.

Social TV may sound like an oxymoron – the boob tube has been seen from the start by critics as an anti-social force – but apparently TV helps fill a need for some people. Recent studies suggest that watching TV can help stave off feelings of loneliness and sadness.

One study found that folks feeling down perked up when they wrote about their favorite TV shows and characters – an example of the so-called social surrogacy hypothesis, where people use technology in a bid to gain a sense of belonging, reports.

There’s little doubt that as people spend more time online the Internet is altering social interaction. People are connecting in new ways, sometimes using variations on old forms.

So whether people are gathering in a room around the same television set, or using different computers to watch the same program via Social TV, at least we're fulfilling a very human craving for a shared experience – even as we lose ourselves in what’s on the screen. Either way, it’s better than watching alone.

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.

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