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Rabbit: The Next-Gen, WebRTC Version of Mystery Science Theater 3000?

September 23, 2014

Remember Mystery Science Theater 3000? The trope of that TV show was to present a B-movie for at-home audiences, but with a trio of on-screen snark specialists making constant, hilarious, often deprecating, sometimes ironic, and always entertaining comments about the flick being shown. It was a facsimile of social TV—sort of—before real-time commentary actually became possible. Now, a service called Rabbit is adding a user-generated aspect to that same concept.

Essentially, Rabbit allows groups of people to watch a simultaneous feed together from Netflix or YouTube, from whichever screen they would like—and comment on it in real time. It’s a virtual version of MST3K, where you bring your own snark.

When it launched a year ago, Rabbit was only for Mac users, and came with a raft of plugins, permissions and Facebook attachments that made it a clunky experience. Still, it managed to attract more than 3 million subscribers in the process. But that's just the beginning according to the company, which has launched a revamped service that incorporates WebRTC—so, it can accommodate anyone with a compatible browser--thus reaching a warren of new markets and devices.

“The experience is very contextual, human and intuitive – just go on Chrome, accept access, and you’re invited into the viewing room where you can share in-browser media from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and more,” explained Brad Bush, executive vice president and CMO of GENBAND, in a blog. “There is even document collaboration available using Google Drive (but that doesn’t sound as exciting as team binge-watching ‘Silicon Valley’ first season together).”

Rabbit events are for small groups—the Netflix sharing function for instance can handle only up to six people—so it remains an intimate experience. Participants can voice or text chat using simple tools at the bottom of the screen, and can invite friends to join by sending a video cam request link.

“As the browser walls continue to fall, even more people will be able to watch moving pictures together in real time, sharing their expressions as well as their words,” Bush said.

Rabbit is also an example of how WebRTC could potentially help content providers soup up their offerings, and help cable and other pay-TV operators new paths to monetization.

“For now, Rabbit…will likely play nice with content providers, not violating copyrights in the traditional broadcast sense – this is sharing and caring (and swearing…imagine watching with friends on rival football teams!” said Bush.

Interestingly, Rabbit isn’t the only video hare in town that’s making changes to accommodate the realities of digital distribution and the meshing of television and real-time communications. Rabbit TV, a Freecast product, launched 18 months ago as a USB drive-based way to bring content to mobile devices. It attracted more than 3 million subscribers in the process. But that's just the beginning according to the company, which has launched a revamped service that has lost the hardware component in favor of a software client approach.

The “Plus” version of the service has also added hundreds of additional live channels, both user-generated and from major providers, plus personalization options, and global channels from over 150 countries join thousands of movies, TV shows, radio stations, live events, music, games, pay-per-view sources and premium content. And people seem to like it: during a private beta period, the company said that it has been seeing an average chat time within group streams of 77 minutes.

"The tremendous growth that we've enjoyed in such a short time is an affirmation that we're on the right track, and that's what drives this company not just to create the next-generation television experience, but to bring that experience to everyone,” said CEO William Mobley. “That's what we've done with Rabbit TV Plus. Being Web-based and mobile-friendly means that users will be able to watch TV from anywhere, an essential feature in this age dominated by mobile devices. That will also allow us to bring the service worldwide in a couple of months."

It will soon get a worldwide vetting for that; in January of 2015, Rabbit TV Plus will make the hop, as it were, to 140 countries, where these new features will be critical to its success.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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