With trashy TV shows like VH1's "Mob Wives," the show itself is only half of why we watch. The other, funner half is reading (and writing) zingers about the show on Twitter or Facebook while we watch. "OMG, is that her real face?! #ohnoshedidnt" You get the idea. Now VH1 has done the obvious thing and collected this essential companion content stream into an iPad app called CoStar, so you can snark away to your favorite shows in real time right while the broadcast is happening.
Of course, you just could do that yourself just by firing up Twitter during the latest episode of Audrina. But the brilliant thing about CoStar is that its WatchWith feature filters the firehose, so only the decent bits get to you. "If you just try to follow along on Twitter, there is a lot of garbage in the stream," says Noah Vadnai, Vice President of VH1 Mobile. "We strip out one-word comments or Tweets that force you to click a link in order for them to make sense. Adding witty commentary is a point of pride among our viewers, and CoStar captures and filters out the best stuff."
WatchWith filters the firehose; only the decent bits get to you.
CoStar also acts like a mini TV Guide for VH1 shows, so you can just plop down on the couch, turn on both screens, and start snarking. But the savviest thing about CoStar is that it lets you do that for shows you've time-shifted or recorded with your DVR, too. Let's say you're home sick from work and want to catch up on the last 3 episodes of Mob Wives. It just wouldn't be the same without that companion feed of cutting commentary, would it? With CoStar, you can call up a "captured" feed of social-web commentary in the app — just hit Play on CoStar at the same time as your DVR, and the app will "play back" all the delicious dish in sync with the episode you're watching on your TV or laptop.
"That's why we call CoStar a DVR for social commentary," says Kristin Frank, General Manager of VH1 Digital. "This is content that's just as important to our audience as the show, and they should be able to have that total experience even if they're watching our shows at a time other than original broadcast premiere." Even better, CoStar's commentary stream is actually curated in this timeshifted context, which means that the filtered live stream is even more polished to surface only the best bon mots — plus comments from the VH1 stars themselves, as well as photos and other rich media that pop into the stream at just the right moment.
When VH1's user-generated "companion content" is just as much of a draw to the brand as the "real" content itself, it pays (literally) to design for multiple screens, use cases, and platforms. "We don't want the user to have to rethink or reorient too much depending on what device they're on," explains Ryan Shafer, Design Director for VH1 Digital. CoStar, he says, is all about making an essentially passive medium — broadcast TV — feel as interactive and personalized as the internet without ruining what makes the TV experience itself great already. And regardless of whether you consider "Mob Wives" a guilty pleasure or the end of civilization as we know it, that's a design strategy that any media company would do well to take note of.