Hulu is the first major streaming platform to launch a built-in Watch Party feature that allows its subscribers to watch a show in a group chat room. During COVID-19 shutdowns, watch parties have become increasingly popular, although most are enabled by third-party apps and services rather than built-in social viewing features. The Hulu Watch Party feature is now available to web users who subscribe to the platform’s ad-free plan. Plex also launched a Watch Together feature that works with the user’s own media and the company’s on-demand content.
The Verge reports that, “people with access to the feature will see a Watch Party icon on the details page of supported titles … [and will] then be given a link they can send to people they want to watch along with.” All those who watch must have Hulu’s ad-free tier subscription. Watch Party also features a shared group chat. Individual users can pause and then press a “click to catch up” button to sync back with the group.
Up until now, watch parties have been enabled by third-party services, although “some streaming services, like HBO, have also started to partner with companies for more official watch party offerings … and the BBC has started to build out a tool that works across many of its own platforms.” Amazon also “allows its Prime shows to be viewed in Watch Parties, but they have to be hosted by someone who’s streaming over Twitch.”
CNET reports that Hulu’s Watch Party feature “can support up to eight people” and is compatible with PCs and Macs. It adds that, “Netflix Party is a free add-on for Google Chrome that lets you remotely binge watch Netflix with friends and family … [and] the group watch function of HBO GO and Now is an app by virtual movie theater company Scener, available through Chrome.”
TechCrunch reports that Plex is launching its Watch Together feature “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.” A user not on Plex can also be invited to join the group viewing during the test period, although it will eventually be a paid feature.
Unlike Hulu’s Watch Party, Plex’s offering does not currently include a built-in chat function and doesn’t allow the individual to pause and re-sync; anyone who pauses viewing pauses playback for all users. There is currently no cap on the number of users who can join, although “the feature’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.” In other words, too many viewers on the session could precipitate playback issues.
Plex’s Watch Together is compatible with “Apple and Android platforms, including Apple TV and iOS/iPadOS … Android mobile and Android TV,” while “support for Roku will come soon after, with other platforms to follow.”