Scener Offers Virtual Theater and Video Chat for HBO, Netflix

WarnerMedia’s HBO has partnered with Seattle-based Scener to allow HBO Now and HBO GO subscribers to create a private virtual theater, including video chat, for up to 20 people. Scener already allows co-viewing for Netflix accounts. This is HBO’s first significant partnership with an online co-viewing platform. Scener co-founder Joe Braidwood said the company saw a “crazy surge in demand” for the product with the COVID-19 pandemic. The partnership, which began in March, includes a new design for the site and update for Google Chrome browsers.

The Verge reports Braidwood said that, with regard to the Chrome browsers running the app, “we used to overlay the video and social channels, which injected a lot of code at once leading to a lot of stability issues in Netflix.”

“People were running out of memory because so much was happening on one Chrome tab,” he explained. Scener has gotten “positive feedback” on the update. Braidwood added that, although co-watching isn’t new, his company’s solution is “very safe and compatible with HBO’s vision.”

That’s because piracy has been an issue, not just for HBO, but all Hollywood studios. HBO’s “Game of Thrones” often ended up on Twitch, where “part of the appeal … is socialization through chat.” “Yes, people download and pirate movies … streaming them on Discord and Twitch,” said Braidwood. “But the majority of people don’t have the time or the patience for that. They want a delightful, easy experience.”

Amazon, which owns Twitch, also allows co-viewing for movies and TV shows on Prime Video, but all viewers must be subscribers. Braidwood believes co-viewing will endure post-pandemic. “There are watershed moments in history where black swan events change human behavior,” he said. “That couldn’t be more true for America right now. This is one of the first milestones that starts tracking the new path of co-viewing becoming more than just a trend.”

Mashable reports that those who download the “Scener Chrome extension (compatible with Windows, Mac, and Chromebook devices) can enjoy synchronized playback with up to 20 other users, and connect via text, audio and video.”

The company reported it plans to support “even bigger live events,” but hasn’t released details. HBO’s #StayHomeBoxOffice offering “has made numerous popular titles available to non-subscribers for free during quarantine.” It also reports that, although Scener hasn’t commented and “no deals with Disney have been announced, the extension download is reportedly asking for permission to read and change data on Hulu.com and DisneyPlus.com.”