Integra5 is taking its blended services approach into the realm of social networking with a new feature that allows viewers to chat while watching the same TV program.

Integra5 unveiled its MediaFriends TV Chat today and will be demonstrating it at next week’s CableLabs Summer Conference in Keystone, Colo. MediaFriends is the latest addition to Integra5’s i5 Converged Services Platform (i5 CSP).

While Integra5 is working on spreading MediaFriends to PCs and TVs, the first function allows viewers to watch a show together while sharing text messages in real time.

With MediaFriends TV Chat, users are able to set up and manage buddy lists on their PC, which they can then access on TVs. Using their remote control, they can invite individuals or groups to watch TV programming together. Buddies can accept or decline the invitation; if they accept, their TV automatically tunes to that channel, and a live group chat is visible on the screen. Viewers can then participate in the group chat by sending text messages via their mobile phone to the phone number displayed on the chat banner.

Integra5 CEO Meredith Flynn-Ripley said the service makes the TV the centerpiece of social networking, instead of mobile devices or PCs. Currently, “digital natives” are using social media applications, such as fan Web sites, blogs and wikis, with SMS text messaging to socialize around TV programming in an ad-hoc manner over a combination of devices, including PCs and mobile phones.

“The key takeaway is that we’re creating the beginning of a series of services that monetize social behavior,” Flynn-Ripley said to CED. “They’re across different devices, but the TV programming from a service provider is used for the viewing. Consumers want to choose what device they watch a program on. Look at how they use SMS and social networks.”

Integra5 cited research by AT&T, which found that 22 percent of the voters in this season’s “American Idol” learned how to text in order to vote. A report from Grunwald Associates found that 45 percent of teenagers have sent instant messages or e-mails to friend who are watching the same TV show.

For service providers, blended services not only provide additional revenue streams, but also reduce churn in the face of stiff competition from other providers. Integra5’s i5 CSP platform has been deployed by more than 30 service providers worldwide.

Flynn-Ripley said that TV caller ID and PC caller ID, both of which Integra5 has deployed, were just the tip of the converged services iceberg, and additional features such as MediaFriends can be added to the platform through open APIs.

“Our i5 CSP, which embraces the open Web with a standards-based architecture, enables operators to consistently meet subscribers’ rapidly changing media consumption behavior – quickly and easily layering on new communications applications across TVs, PCs, and mobile and landline phones with no new equipment or software required within the home,” Flynn-Ripley said.

MediaFriends TV Chat will be in beta testing by the end of the year and is scheduled for availability in early 2009. While the current version uses mobile phones for texting messages, future iterations could have virtual keyboards.

Future MediaFriends applications will incorporate additional social media capabilities, such as: TV Chat invitations that reach PCs and mobile phones; advanced personalization features; presence, so that users can see who is watching a TV program; and integration with social networking sites, including Facebook, MySpace and others.

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