SXSW Report: PBS Joins the Social Video Conversation with Ovee

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While streaming and social video creations like HBO Go and Zeebox are pointing the way to the future of television, PBS isn't going to be left out. At the South by Southwest conference, viewers got an inside look at Ovee, a social video application currently in beta testing.

Created by Independent Television Service (ITVS), which creates content for PBS, with programming by Carbon 5, Ovee is social TV without the TV, says Dennis Palmieri, director of innovation and media strategy at ITVS.

Ovee aims to provide both a lean forward and a lean back experience, by combining primary screen viewing and second screen interactivity. At first glance, this web app looks like any streaming player with a chat function. But Ovee has useful differences. For one, it's connected to PBS's full online video library. Users can select an item from that library and host their own viewing sessions. Those participating can log in with a Facebook account or choose to stay anonymous.

Visit the Ovee pages to see a list of screenings available. Any screenings shown are open to all viewers (people have the option of creating private screenings, which don't show up).

When setting up a screening, users can choose to make it moderated or unmoderated, or to bring in special guests to lead the discussion. They can add branding, if the screening has a sponsor, and even preprogram moments in the video's timeline, such as questions that would appear at key times. That should appeal to educators leading online classes.

Viewers can choose "emoticators" to express how they feel ("emoticon" is trademarked, explained Palmieri) or chat with other viewers. The screening's host can post polls at any time.

Ovee PanelOvee is in the middle of a long beta period, which lasts until this summer. About 20 PBS stations are currently using it, and the platform is open to any viewer. Once out of beta, the system goes back in development. Palmieri says he wants to add a live feed, a link to YouTube's library, and content from other libraries.

Because Ovee was created with pubic funds, Palmieri revealed that the project has cost about $1.5 million so far for development and training. While ITVS and Carbon 5 haven't done scalability testing yet, they've successfully hosted screenings with over 500 viewers.

Embracing the streaming future, PBS and ITVS are showing that streaming video isn't just for big money media companies, and that there's more to interactivity that engaging with an ad.

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