Disney+ adds a co-watching feature called GroupWatch

Disney+ is the latest streaming service to introduce a way for friends and family to watch movies and TV together while in different locations.

With the pandemic closing movie theaters and making any kind of indoor socializing pretty risky, the Netflix Party Chrome extension has become the main way I watch TV with friends. Netflix Party doesn’t have any official connection to Netflix, but other streaming services, like Amazon Prime Video and Disney-owned Hulu, have been adding similar features of their own.

Disney has already been testing the new GroupWatch feature in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and today it’s launching for viewers in the United States.

Jerrell Jimerson, the chief product officer for Disney’s streaming services, told me that GroupWatch was already in development before the pandemic, but that the company “worked to accelerate it given the realities of COVID.”

The Disney+ experience has some key advantages over most other co-watching technology, because it doesn’t require users to install a browser extension and it will work on any device, not just laptop and desktop computers. Jimerson explained that the goal was to create something that was “super easy for consumers to use” and that “didn’t take away from the content and didn’t take away from the viewing experience.”

Disney+ GroupWatch

Image Credits: Disney

Once you’ve selected GroupWatch from the Details menu of a movie or TV show, you can invite up to six other people to participate — of course, they’ll need a Disney+ subscription of their own. And while the invitation has to be created via the Disney+ website or mobile app, people can also participate in a GroupWatch from their internet-connected TVs.

Besides synchronizing video playback (which any participant can control), GroupWatch allows viewers to respond to what’s happening on-screen by sharing emojis. But it lacks one of the hallmarks of co-watching, namely a chat that runs alongside the video.

Granted, a chat window could have been a bit distracting when blown up onto a big TV, but it’s arguably the centerpiece of social viewing. Jimerson said that if viewers want to chat, they can continue talking on whatever channel they used to send the invite (presumably a chat app on their phones).

“There are other opportunities to integrate communication capabilities, but we haven’t shared any timing on those things,” he added.

#co-watching, #disney, #entertainment, #media, #tc, #the-walt-disney-co

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Hulu tests its co-viewing feature ‘Watch Party’ with ad-supported viewers

Hulu was one of the first major streaming services to introduce a “co-viewing” feature that allows friends and family to watch Hulu content together from different locations. The feature, Hulu Watch Party, was initially only available for subscribers on the the ad-free tier of Hulu’s streaming service. Now, the company is making Watch Party available to ad-supported subscribers as well, but in a more limited capacity.

When Hulu Watch Party launched in May, it worked across thousands of movies and TV shows in Hulu’s on-demand streaming library. As Hulu explained at the time, if a show is available for co-viewing, it will indicate this with a “Watch Party” icon on the title’s Details page. Users can then provide the co-viewing link to those they want to watch together with. Currently, a Watch Party session supports up to 8 people.

What makes Hulu’s implementation different from those seen on rival services is that viewers can control their own Watch Party experience. If someone wants to grab a snack or needs a bathroom break, for example, they can pause playback. But doing so doesn’t impact the group’s shared stream. Then, when they return, the viewer can either watch what they missed or tap a “Catch Up” button to get back in sync with the group.

Hulu says since the product debuted, viewers have used Watch Party to host movie nights and watch new series premieres. “Palm Springs,” “Parasite,” and “Love, Victor” were among the top titles that were co-viewed to date.

Now, Hulu wants to bring the feature to ad-supported viewers.

Image Credits: Hulu

The company is testing co-watching on “Pen15,” whose season 2 premieres on Friday, Sept. 18.

Over the next 10 days, Hulu subscribers on both the ad-supported and ad-free plans will be able to join Watch Parties for this particular program.

Hulu is also trying out a branded experience within Watch Party for this particular test.

In a nod to the show, the Watch Party interface will be designed to resemble a classic instant messenger chat room, and will include screen names taken from the series. This design will only display when Watch Party is used to stream “Pen15,” not other shows. It’s an interesting example of how Watch Party could help to build out more of a fan community around a show by theming the chat interface in a unique way for viewers.

Users today have to be 18 and up to use Watch Party, Hulu says. Support for co-viewing of “Pen15” across Hulu’s tiers is live as of Wednesday and will continue for 10 days from that date.

The company is now one of several to either officially support co-viewing or at least endorse it.

Amazon’s Twitch launched Watch Parties for Amazon Prime Video following by a built-in feature on Prime Video itself. Plex added Watch Together in May, and HBO teamed up with Scener for co-viewing experiences. Instagram in March rolled out co-watching features, while HouseParty debuted co-watching of events in May. More recently, Instagram Messenger and Messenger Rooms added the ability to co-view Facebook Watch content.

#co-watching, #hulu, #media, #streaming-service, #watch-party

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Plex launches a co-watching experience for its on-demand library and users’ personal media

Virtual viewing parties that let people watch video together remotely have become a popular way to stay connected with friends and family amid the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier today, Hulu announced the addition of a new “Watch Party” feature for its site to make a virtual viewing experience a built-in feature of its service. Now, media software maker Plex is also today launching its own “Watch Together” feature which works both with its own collection of on-demand content and users’ personal media.

The feature is launching in beta as it’s still considered experimental, but will allow Plex users to invite friends on Plex to watch a TV show or movie together. If a user is not on Plex, you can invite them to join via the link, as well.

Plex says the co-viewing experience is supported on both its free selection of on-demand movies and TV shows as well as on content from a user’s personal library without limitations. However, unlike Hulu’s new feature, Watch Together doesn’t currently include a built-in chat function. Instead, Plex simply handles the playback of the content and keeping it in sync between the different parties.

The company hasn’t put a specific cap on the number of users who can join a Watch Together session.

The company’s FAQ explains the number of people who can join will depend on your own server hardware where the Plex Media Server software runs, in addition to your network connection, disk speed, and the content being shared. If you add too many people to the session, you’ll experience playback issues, Plex warns.

Once a session begins, users can join from multiple devices or rejoin if they accidentally leave early, but no new people can be added. Unlike Hulu’s new co-watching feature, anyone who pauses the stream will pause the playback for all users, not just themselves.

At launch, Plex’s Watch Together feature works on Apple and Android platforms, including Apple TV and iOS/iPadOS, as well as on Android mobile and Android TV. Support for Roku will come soon after with other platforms to follow.

During testing, it will also be available for free to all users instead of only those who pay for a Plex Pass subscription. That will allow the company to gain more feedback about bugs and feature requests from a wider user base. But it will a paid offering in the future when the initial preview period wraps.

Co-watching video has become a popular activity during coronavirus lockdowns and quarantines.

One extension Netflix Party has seen a spike in usage as U.S. consumers were forced to shelter-in-place due to the coronavirus outbreak. HBO also recently partnered with browser extension Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience that supports up to 20 people. Social apps like Instagram and HouseParty have rolled out co-watching capabilities, too.

Plex says the new Watch Together feature is live today in beta.

#co-watching, #media, #plex, #streaming, #streaming-service, #video

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Houseparty expands beyond video chat with co-watching of live events

Houseparty, the video chat app that’s seen a surge of growth during quarantine, is preparing to expand its service in a new direction: co-watching live video with friends. The company on Friday will launch its first experiential event series called In The House, which will feature over 40 celebrities who will dance, talk, cook, sing, workout, and more, over the course of three days.

Viewers of the event will be able to sing and dance with Alicia Keys and DaBaby; cook with Bad Bunny, José Andrés, and Christina Tosi; workout with Cam Newton and Terry Crews; and dance with Derek Hough and Addison Rae, for example.

Newer additions who were just confirmed this afternoon include Katy Perry, John Legend, David Blaine, Lindsey Harrod, Gabi Butler, Snoop Dogg, CHVRCHES, and Dua Lipa.

They join other participants already scheduled on the In The House website, including Zooey Deschanel, Keegan-Michael Key, Tinashe, Miguel, Robin Arzon, Jermey Fall, Jalaiah, Roy Choi, Chef Mike, The Shoe Surgeon, Jen Atkin, Aquaria, Westside Gunn, Ralph Garman, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Craig Robinson, Justin Willman, Conrad Rocha, Kerri Verna, Cam Newton, Marissa Mullen, Dr. Woo, JB Smoove, 2 Chainz, and Neil Patrick Harris,

The event will run from Friday, May 15 through Sunday, May 17 directly in the Houseparty app. To join in, you open the app when the content is live. Once there, you’ll see a billboard for the show that’s currently airing. This billboard will appear 30 minutes before each broadcast so you can subscribe to the event and receive a push notification when the show starts.

These live streams are not meant to be watched alone like other live videos often are –where users can only participate by typing in group chats or sending virtual likes.  Instead, the idea is to join your friends on Houseparty in a group video chat, as usual, then tune into the live content and watch together.

You’ll see a TV icon appear when there’s a new stream to watch, Houseparty notes.

This live, co-watching experience is made possible thanks to Houseparty’s newly launched video player. The player is designed to sit on your screen but not cover up your friends’ faces, allowing you to watch and chat at the same time.

The live show is over, it will only re-air once, exactly 12 hours after the original show time. Then, it’s gone forever.

Houseparty soft-launched the video player last week when it hosted a virtual prom experience with D-Nice. But that was more of a test run ahead of this much larger and longer live event.

The company doesn’t see this weekend’s virtual celeb party as a one-off event, however. Instead, Houseparty sees this as the first of many live co-watching experiences still to come.

“While many entertainers have turned to performing online during these unprecedented times, this event is different from anything that has happened in the past few months. This is not just another virtual music festival – this weekend’s lineup is a curation of shared experiences: cooking demos, comedy shows, fitness secrets, dance parties, sing-a-longs, and more,” Houseparty spokesperson, Kimberly Baumgarten, told TechCrunch.

“Now that we have this live player it allows us to create more interactive experiences for our users to enjoy together in the future. This content will be additive to the Houseparty video chat experience for our users,” she said.

Watching video together is an activity that’s been booming during quarantine, as friends binge Netflix together through extensions like Netflix Party or join Twitch ‘Watch Parties.‘ Shared experiences, like tuning into virtual concerts or DJ sets on Instagram Live, are popular, too. (If only Google hadn’t shut down its experimental Uptime app for YouTube co-viewing! Darn!)

By focusing on co-watching within group video chats, Houseparty is in closer competition with Instagram, which just this March introduced co-watching of feed photos and videos. But Houseparty is offering planned and scheduled experience — allowing users to coordinate when they’ll join each other in the app, instead of leaving it up to chance.

Quarantine may have rushed this co-watching video technology into development and adoption. But it seems the next step for our high-speed connections was not just to “go live” in order to be watched, but the creation of a world where everyone goes live together — whether performer or viewer.

#apps, #celeb, #co-watching, #houseparty, #live-event, #live-video, #media, #mobile, #social-app, #social-media, #streaming-video, #video-chat, #virtual-events

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