Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic started spreading across the globe and leading to stay-at-home and social-distancing orders affecting millions of people, folks started finding new ways to come together virtually.
Video conferencing app Zoom saw an explosion in new users (although maybe not quite as many as it had initially claimed). And a little browser extension called Netflix Party that first launched several years ago gained a new audience as folks looked for ways have a communal viewing session… while sitting on different couches in different houses.
Now two players in the media streaming space are bringing watch-together-while-apart features to their platforms… no third-party plugins or extensions required.
Starting today, Variety reports that Hulu subscribers paying $12 per month for the ad-free plan can test the company’s new Watch Party feature when viewing selected movies and TV shows.
Watch Party lets groups of up to 8 people watch a video at the same time while communicating in a chat box. The video should stay synchronized so that it starts and ends at the same time. If you need to take a break, you can hit pause without slowing down everyone else’s stream… but you can also hit a “click to catch up” button to jump ahead after your bathroom break.
The host of a Watch Party can send links to people they want to invite. But everyone will have to be a Hulu (No Ads) subscriber. You can’t participate if you’re paying for the cheaper, ad-supported plan. And non-subscribers need not apply.
Meanwhile, Plex is launching its own Watch Together feature that allows multiple users to stream videos simultaneously. The article introducing the new feature says “Watching content (together) is available free, during the preview period), which suggests two things:
- This is still a beta feature.
- It may not be free forever (and may require a Plex Pass subscription or some other form of payment eventually).
Plex is a bit tougher to describe than Hulu, since it’s a service that both lets you stream internet content and set up your own media server so you can stream your own video collection to any device.
Watch Together works with both of those things. If you have a movie on your Plex Media Server that you want to co-watch, you can do that. And if you want to set up a group viewing of one of the free, ad-supported videos available in the Plex Movies & TV service, you can do that as well.
According to Plex, the Watch Together feature is available for Roku, Apple TV, Android TV, Android, and iOS devices. You can start a Watch Together session by finding the video you want to watch, selecting the “… More” button, and choosing “Watch Together.”
From there, you can invite friends to join the session — assuming they’re already in your friend list (meaning they have access to your media server). Then you can wait in a “Lobby” for friends to gather, and then start synchronized playback. Any user can pause, fast forward, or rewind for the whole group, which could make things interesting, I imagine.
Plex doesn’t seem to offer a chat option.