August 18, 2011 at 5:00 am

MTV Unveils Group Viewing iPhone App – But What About the Music?

mtv watchwith iphone app iosGroup listening apps are all the rage right now, from to Music+ on Facebook. But in the television world, people have been watching together using technology for longer — a difference we chalk up to the simple fact people tend to watch the same shows at the same time.

On Thursday morning, MTV announced a new WatchWith iPhone app — a “second screen” that allows users to access extra content that goes with what they’re watching on the big screen. It works similarly to MTV’s already-released WatchWith iPad app and the web version (see the pages for Teen Wolf and Awkward), but tailored to the iPhone.

MTV executives told that they designed the app to complement, rather than distract from, their shows, with behind-the-scenes factoids, “Pop Up Video”-style extras, live tweets from cast members, and a curated feed of what people are saying about the show on Twitter and Facebook — curated so that you don’t get inundated with 1,000 people all saying “OMG SNOOKI!” The app takes your Twitter and Facebook friends into account, as well as your location so you’re more likely to see stuff from people you know and those around you.

In addition to viewing the extras, fans unlock achievements by tuning in to a premiere, sharing content, and viewing content. To ensure that you don’t miss your favorite shows, the app pushes iOS notifications onto your screen — previously on the iPad, and now, on the iPhone too.

mtv watchwith iphone appMTV Mobile Head Mike Scogin explained that there’s no need for MTV to include the audio syncing feature available in other group-watching apps, because MTV only provides the app for one of its channels. However, the app itself has a DVR-like function: It records the online conversation about the show from Twitter and Facebook and replays that as you watch — or if the show repeats.

Group listening apps are new this year, but television has traditionally been a more communal activity.

“The ‘shared experience’ has been going on with TV for quite a long time,” explained Scogin. “It might have started with your parents in the living room, and then there were party lines when I was in high school, where you could call in and talk to like three people on the phone at the same time. Then it progressed to text messaging your friends during the show. What we started to see around 2007 or so with the rise of social media was quite a lot of people conversing on Facebook and Twitter about our programming while it was happening in real time. We could have chosen to embrace that behavior or ignore it, and we’ve chosen to embrace it.”

All of this is well and good, but so far, MTV’s WatchWith apps only work with non-music-oriented shows like Jersey Shore and the MTV Video Music Awards, and not with music video shows. Why not?

According to Scogin and MTV vice president of digital Colin Helms, it’s not that MTV (Music Television) doesn’t care about music — it’s that they’re responding to demand. The company had developed an app to accompany its AM TV music programming, but never released it because “it was an experiment.” The app knew which video was on, and would display related news articles, blog posts, extra video, and social networking feeds.

“We love AM TV, but obviously, the impact of doing this with Jersey Shore and Teen Mom is a little bigger, given the time slots and the audience that those shows have,” explained Scogin. “So part of this product was born out of a music experience, and it’s something that we might go back to with our music channels and do in a bigger way.”

This makes sense, because it takes a lot of work to add a second layer of iOS content for a show — and MTV does plan to add at least one musical feature to WatchWith in the near future: the ability to buy the songs that play during those shows.