The COVID crisis has kept people apart physically — and with social-distancing norms, a wave of services is pushing out “watch party” features, letting their users virtually stream video together with friends.
The latest entrant: Facebook Messenger, the social giant’s chat app, which is launching a new free Watch Together feature lets up to eight people co-view video together directly in the chat app. The social giant says it’s rolling out globally in the next few weeks in Messenger mobile apps for iOS and Android (and the Messenger Rooms videoconference feature).
Already, the main Facebook app has offered Watch Parties for more than two years, letting users invite others friends and followers to watch public videos together.
“We created Watch Together to make spending quality time with friends and loved ones feel as close to an in-person experience as possible,” Facebook product manager Nora Micheva wrote in a blog post Monday. “Whether it’s watching a trending video, a movie, a sports highlight, a makeup tutorial, or a Facebook Watch original, the feature allows you to watch your friends’ reactions at the same time.”
How widely anyone will actually this is an open question. But the concept’s popularity is not in dispute — and it’s picked up steam.
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In the past six months, Hulu, Amazon, Twitch and Scener’s HBO have each adopted similar watch-party features. Last week, Verizon Media’s Yahoo Sports debuted a watch-party feature in its mobile app, timed for the kickoff of the NFL’s 2020 season, to let up to four people livestream pro football for free alongside a Zoom-like video chat. And Disney Plus has started to roll out GroupWatch, which will let subscribers invite up to six other users to watch together.
By bringing Watch Together to Messenger, Facebook is hoping to drive up both video-viewing time as well as usage of the chat app. Currently, on a daily basis, Messenger users make more than 150 million video calls in the app and send more than 200 videos. “With Watch Together, people can now consume the content and experience it all in one place, together, in real time,” Micheva wrote.
To create a Watch Together session, you can start Messenger video call or create a Messenger Room then swipe up to access the menu and select “Watch Together.” From there you can select a video suggested for you or choose from a category such as “TV & Movies” (comprising a selection of premium TV shows and movies), “Watched” or “Uploaded.” You can watch videos with up to eight people on a Messenger video call and up to 50 people in Rooms.
For the launch, Facebook teamed with fitness trainer and author Melissa Alcantara to create a series of fitness videos to let people virtually work out with friends. Per a company study, 70% of U.S. users who work out with a partner have achieved a fitness goal in the past six months compared with 45% of people who work solo.