Emma McCulloch and Jennifer Cheek, for example, used to meet to watch “Dancing With the Stars” together, but that ritual ended when Cheek moved to Hawaii.
So the women decided that McCulloch, who lives in San Mateo, California, would save the “Dancing With the Stars” finale on her digital video recorder and wait until the show was seen in Hawaii.
Then, they would get on Skype to video chat while they watched the show. “It was brilliant in that we felt like we were experiencing it together,” McCulloch said. “I feel more, sort of, connected to her because we are sharing the same frustrations and joys.”
People like McCulloch and Cheek are a full step ahead of media companies, who have toyed with the notion of making TV more of a shared interactive experience. The online streaming TV site Hulu.com, owned by NBC Universal, the News Corporation and the Walt Disney Company, has experimented with real-time interactive systems but has yet to make them available.
Verizon Communications offers a Facebook connection tied to its FiOS Internet service where people can post messages while they watch a program. Video-game console makers like Microsoft and Sony seem to have come closest to offering an interactive experience with their voice chat and messaging systems.
Jessica Acres, for example, gathers with a few friends, via Skype, most days to watch shows like “General Hospital,” “One Life to Live” and “Gossip Girl.”
Acres, a 29-year-old nanny outside Indianapolis, has also started a Web site with her friends called 411onSoaps.com, where they post the latest twists and turns from the soaps. She is adding new layers of social networking to make TV watching even more interactive.
People have discovered other tricks for shrinking distances between far-flung friends, particularly those in different time zones who want to watch a show as soon as it goes on the air.
Using readily available adapters that cost less than $100, people can connect their cable and satellite TV lines to a computer, grab streams of live television and make them available on Web sites like Justin.tv. Such technology has, predictably, turned the Canadian maritime provinces into popular places.
Residents of provinces like New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are in the Atlantic time zone, and therefore can see some American TV programs an hour before they start on TVs in the Eastern time zone. People in the Atlantic zone will feed streams of those programs to the Web so people in Hawaii can see them several hours earlier.
“This is part of a ‘can’t wait’ culture that gets frustrated when it takes more than two seconds to load a Web page,” said Christopher S Yoo, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who has studied the rise of live television streams on the Web.