Does CSI stand for Constant Social Interaction?

CBS (NYSE:CBS) is testing a concept called the Social Viewing Room, pairing Web-streaming of live CBS video with an online chat room.

The premise isn't original, of course. Smaller video sites have linked synchronized video-viewing with chatty interaction. Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) YouTube is tantalizingly close to such an offering, since it already shows the names of all users currently watching a given video. Heck, since YouTube clips can be embedded in Google's avatar-driven social community Lively, it's pretty much there.

But CBS is the first major TV network to adopt this trend, even though ABC parent Disney (NYSE:DIS) beat it to the punch two years ago as the first network to stream free, ad-supported episodes online. General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC and News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) FOX have even bigger dot-com ambitions with their Hulu online video service.

Beyond policing flame-baiting trolls and inappropriate language, the challenge in pairing video and chat has typically involved getting viewers to watch the same clip at the same time. Going with live streams is a no-brainer solution, but the major networks have avoided that route in the past. As a compromise to keep local affiliates happy, the media giants typically wait a day before offering up primetime shows as Web streams.

However, those feathers have already been irreversibly ruffled. Whether networks are selling digital downloads or cutting Web-streaming deals -- like CBS did last week with Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) -- video consumption is changing.

You can probably thank TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) for getting people to rethink their primetime viewing habits. Now you can thank sites like Facebook and News Corp.'s MySpace for forcing traditional media to embrace social networking.

Social Viewing Room probably has a bumpy ride ahead of it. Idiots flock to chat rooms like moths to a flamewar. But if CBS can give its site the friendly feel of your average living room, old-school media may become the content-rich new media darling.

Plenty is at stake. CBS CEO Leslie Moonves wants online revenue to climb to $1 billion by 2011, well ahead of the $600 million the company's ringing up now. This could be the start of something big. Just don't ask me to share my popcorn with total strangers.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz watches more NBC than CBS these days. He owns shares in Disney, TiVo, and Netflix. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy is more venerable than Andy Rooney, but far less grumpy.