Disney Plus has buddied up to the “watch party” trend: The Mouse House streamer is launching GroupWatch in the U.S. The new feature lets Disney Plus subscribers invite up to six friends and family members to synchronously stream a TV show or movie together, from wherever they happen to be.
Unlike other “watch party” implementations, Disney Plus’ GroupWatch doesn’t include a text chat feature, an omission designed to not distract viewers from the main event, according to Disney. GroupWatch does let participants share real-time reactions with six different emoji: “like,” “funny,” “sad,” “angry,” “scared” and “surprised” through the Disney Plus app.
Broadly, GroupWatch is designed to boost overall usage of the service. It also has the potential to attract new subs, as all participants must have a Disney Plus account: A friend’s GroupWatch invite for, say, “The Mandalorian” Season 2 (premiering Oct. 30) could lead to new signups — or, even more lucrative for Disney, one for “Mulan” at $30 per account for early-access viewing.
GroupWatch already was on Disney Plus’ product road map pre-COVID, but the pandemic accelerated requests from users for such a feature, said Jerrell Jimerson, SVP of product management for Disney Streaming Services.
“Movies and TV shows are by their nature social, and people want to watch them together,” Jimerson said.
The synchronized co-streaming concept has been around for a few years, but the COVID crisis has turned 2020 into the Year of the Watch Party as millions have been under home quarantine. This year, Hulu, Amazon, Twitch, Facebook’s Messenger and Verizon Media’s Yahoo Sports have added similar watch-party features. Independent co-streaming platform Scener has expanded its reach, and the trend has attracted new entrants like Caavo’s Watch With Friends.
GroupWatch is available on all titles in the Disney Plus library across web, mobile apps, connected TV devices and smart TVs (although viewers on TV screens can’t share emoji reactions). Disney Plus allows up to seven profiles per account, and any of them can be invited to a GroupWatch (with the exception of kids’ profiles); however, each account is limited to four simultaneous streams.
As for the absence of text chat in GroupWatch, Jimerson said, “We were really focused on making it easy to use for friends and family… and making sure the viewing experience wasn’t tarnished.” In other words, Disney wants its shows and movies to remain the star attraction, without snarky comments or other distracting asides from the peanut gallery.
Disney Plus subscribers can initiate an invitation to a GroupWatch party via the icon on the Details page of series and movies in the service. They will then get a link to invite up to six other people to watch with them. Invitations must originate from mobile or web, but you can access GroupWatch sessions from your connected TV device or smart TV. Each participant can pause, rewind or fast forward video playback for the whole group.
Earlier this month, Disney Plus launched GroupWatch in a test version in Canada (on Sept. 10) and in Australia and New Zealand (on Sept. 18). Jimerson said Disney Streaming Services expects to launch GroupWatch to Europe later this fall.