BH Interview: Constellation TV Co-Founder James Lawler Banks on Streaming, Socializing Movies

Watching movies online means no one yapping on their cell phones or munching popcorn so loudly you can’t hear the actors on screen.

Sometimes movie lovers actually want social interaction – the right kind, at least. Enter Constellation TV, a new online service which extends the social media realm to movie watching.

The site, launched the first week of November, is more than another streaming platform. Constellation TV allows directors, including Allison Anders (“Border Radio”), to showcase their older films while promoting new projects. Rising stars like Channing Tatum can participate in post-screening web cam chats to pump up interest in their films. Others will use the site to raise money for upcoming projects.

Wanna pick the brain of writer/director Whit Stillman? Check out Constellation TV’s special showing of his 1990 film debut “Metropolitan” at 8 p.m. EST Jan. 12 and previewing his next feature, “Damsels in Distress,” his first new film in 14 years.

The site also lets actors with pet causes – like singer Jack Johnson’s concerns over plastic bags – to share their passions with the public via documentaries like “Bag It.”

Or, you can simply watch a movie and chat about the experience with some like-minded peers.

The site operates as an online movie theater, but its primary appeal lies in its social interaction qualities. If they’re feeling social, they can invite friends to watch along with them. That helps viewers from various communities, be it zombie fans or even Irish dancers, to rally around a particular film.

Not every film comes with a compelling host or commentary. Audiences can purchase tickets to watch a scheduled film event or watch it immediately without the social bells and whistles.

Lawler says the technical challenges behind the site have kept Constellation TV’s team busy, but he’s eager to finalize partnership deals in 2012 that will expand the site’s reach. One way he hopes to do that is to team up with prominent bloggers to build “curated series” of movie events.

The company doesn’t conflict directly with theaters, opting to show movies like 2011’s “The Eagle” – featuring Tatum’s Q&A – late in the film’s release window.

So far, documentaries have clicked with Constellation TV’s viewers, as have independent films. But Lawler hopes the site doesn’t become simply an “indie platform exclusively.”

He followed the “Tower Heist” video on demand imbroglio closely, and acknowledges why movie theaters might fear the change VOD technology represents. He also thinks it’s “inevitable” for more theatrical content to make its way into our living rooms and laptops.

“We’re in a world where it’s very easy to watch what you want on whatever device you want to do that on,” he says.