Consumers are hungry for new opportunities to socialize safely and watch parties are high on their list. Unfortunately, the new features video providers are adding fall well short of consumer expectations.
Streaming services launching watch party features
In this age of social isolation, the need for connection with our friends and family has never been higher. Streaming services are leaning into the need by launching features that allow friends and family to watch movies and TV shows together, even though they are apart.
Amazon Prime Video is the latest to launch watch parties. It is gradually rolling out the feature to users of the desktop PC’s Prime Video experience. Up to 100 people can watch together in a virtual room. The video playback is synchronized for viewers, and there is a chat sidebar where viewers can type messages about what they are watching.
Everyone participating in the watch party must be a Prime member. They can watch any of the on-demand titles included with their membership, though they cannot view video rentals and purchases.
Hulu is also testing a similar feature. Up to 8 people can watch together through a PC. However, all must have a Hulu ad-free viewing plan. They can text chat through a sidebar. Seattle startup Scener also allows Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Go/Now users to enjoy watch parties with friends and family through a PC or Mac using the browser. Up to 20 people can participate, and they can use voice and camera to chat with each other during the video. Scener advises people to use headphones to listen.
Many interested in watch parties
New data from RingDigital, in association with Minerva, shows there is a great deal of interest in watch parties from lockdown-weary people. In an early June survey of 1,101 U.S. video and TV viewers, participants were asked about their level of interest in a watch party feature. More than a quarter said they were very or somewhat interested. Live sports viewers were even more enthusiastic about the idea, with 2-in-5 showing moderate to keen interest.
There is also strong appeal across genres for social viewing. 45% said they would like to socially view live sports, which 40% nominated popular movies and TV shows. There was also a solid interest in live news and debates, reality TV, and events.
The problems with current watch party features
Though there is a strong interest in watch parties, the implementations currently available to people might not meet their expectations. The most glaring problem is the restriction of using a PC. Nielsen data from Q3 2019 shows that 31% of adults watch videos on a PC versus 44% for a connected TV. As well, the top streaming services all say most viewing takes place on a connected TV.
Younger people might be more interested in using their PC. Roughly a third of U.S. adults under-65 watch videos on a PC. However, the 18 to 34 age group watch much longer: 3 hours and 47 minutes a week versus 2 hours and 25 minutes for 50 to 64s. Brian Ring, the author of the RingDigital survey, says that 40% of 18-24s showed interest in the watch party feature. That said, the preferred screen for most people will be the television.
The other problem with the Hulu and Amazon watch party chat features is that they are text only. The RingDigital survey suggests there is an expectation that a watch party is more like a Zoom call. When asked which watch party feature was of most significant interest, high-quality audio/video call came out on top!
However, the chat features are secondary to the synchronized video. After all, people can use their smartphone for a group video call while they are watching.
Why it matters
Lockdown-weary consumers are looking for new ways to connect with friends and families.
The idea of viewing a movie or TV show remotely in a watch party with friends is popular.
Hulu, Amazon, and others have responded with watch party features, but a focus on the PC and text chat will limit their appeal.
 RingDigital described the feature to survey participants thusly: What if you could watch TV with friends and family who are in different locations–and interact with them at the same time?