Apple’s SharePlay to Power Watch Parties for FaceTime Users

As part of iOS 15, Apple will debut SharePlay to allow FaceTime users to stream online videos, movies and music from Apple TV or an iPad, iPhone or Mac and watch with friends while chatting — similarly to Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Houseparty. During COVID-19, the watch party feature was also adopted by Disney+, Hulu and Prime Video. SharePlay is ideally aimed at teens who are more likely to watch videos on their phones and chat. A Pew Research study showed that 59 percent of U.S. teens video-chat with friends.

The Verge reports that, “the introduction of SharePlay also jibes with Apple’s reported plans to make iMessage compete more directly with Facebook-owned WhatsApp by becoming more of a social network.” But, it adds, “if Apple wants SharePlay to be a success among the demographic of consumers most likely to use it, it’ll need to expand the number of apps that support it.”

At its introduction, in addition to Disney+, Hulu and Prime Video, SharePlay will support “ESPN Plus, HBO Max, MasterClass, Paramount Plus, Pluto TV, TikTok, and Twitch.” Apple has stated that it will “be available to any streaming app that wants to support it.”

But not included in the initial launch are Netflix and YouTube, the latter of which “seems like a huge miss for Apple, especially where teens are concerned,” not just because of the content but because it’s free and “apps with highly shareable content like livestreams seem like the best use case for SharePlay outside of live sporting events.”

It notes that, “that’s particularly true given that for paid services, each participant in a SharePlay streaming session will need a login for the app” or face a “piracy nightmare” if “just anyone” could drop in a FaceTime stream.

That’s where SharePlay’s business model gets fuzzy, says The Verge, because “if your friends are watching NFL coverage on Sling TV, you’ll need a $35 subscription to join in (assuming the content is included in one of the service’s base plans)” and likewise for content on Disney+ and other platforms.

“It’s hard to imagine that most users would pay for a service just to be able to FaceTime while they’re watching a title,” it notes, adding that, “free, social-leaning services and streaming titans are most likely to see success with this feature, and livestreaming apps seem likely to perform best … But they’ll actually have to be on SharePlay for that to work.”

Variety reports that the SharePlay feature, via a web-based version of FaceTime, will also be available on “Android devices and PCs via Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge browsers.” Disney Streaming executive vice president Jerrell Jimerson said the company is, “excited to participate as a developer on SharePlay to enable innovative viewing experiences across Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+ … including bringing a live sports co-viewing experience to ESPN+ for the first time.”

Soon, FaceTime Will Be Able to Host Your Virtual Watch Party. Here’s How It Works, CNET, 6/11/21

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