Scener, the startup whose co-viewing watch parties are available across 10 streaming platforms (and counting) is hoping to keep up the momentum it’s seen during the COVID pandemic.
Scener has been at this for more than two years. But watch parties have hit a quarantine-driven boom, with Disney Plus, Hulu and Amazon Prime Video among those that have recently introduced such watch-together features.
Launched in 2018, Seattle-based Scener first provided a web-browser overlay for Netflix, letting friends watch a TV show or movie together and chat in real time. Since then, the company has expanded to support multiple platforms, including Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Funimation, Vimeo, YouTube, Alamo On Demand and Disney’s Hotstar.
Now, with a new tranche of $2.1 million funding, Scener expects to launch support for connected TVs and mobile apps later in 2020 as well as scale up its “virtual theater” platform to support as many as 1 million concurrent viewers. The company also is expanding its co-viewing watch party special events, hoping to turn them into a real revenue-generating business.
“We’re just getting started,” said Scener COO Joe Braidwood. “We are at a really exciting inflection point, where Scener has become the de facto go-to for co-viewing.”
According to Braidwood, Scener has seen its engagement boom 100-fold since the coronavirus outbreak hit the U.S. in March, with users currently watching nearly 14 million minutes per week together. Scener is approaching 500,000 weekly actives, and “all of that growth was organic,’ said Braidwood.
Can that translate into actual dollars? For now, Scener isn’t making money through the virtual watch parties — the company is “pre-revenue,” in Silicon Valley lingo.
Braidwood, who co-founded Scener with former RealNetworks exec Daniel Strickland, said the company right now is focused on scaling up its platform, growing the user base and introducing new features. He cited three potential revenue streams: promoting partner content such as a movie premiere, which could be sponsored or ticketed events; selling subscriptions and/or emoji for watch parties of popular Scener hosts (a la Twitch’s model); and collecting a bounty from partners for subscriber signups.
Meanwhile, Scener is actually encouraged that Disney Plus, Amazon, Hulu, Yahoo Sports, Dish’s Sling TV and others have embraced the concept. Braidwood sees the trend as boosting Scener’s profile said the company’s advantages are its focus and platform-agnostic approach. “We are better than anyone else at doing this,” he said. “Really, our vision is to be a watch-party platform that integrates with whatever you watch, wherever you watch it.”
Scener was incubated by streaming-audio company RealNetworks and Jason Calacanis’ Launch Accelerator. The startup’s recently closed $2.1 million in new financing was led by Seattle-based SeaChange Fund with participation from RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser’s Glaser Investments, Calacanis’ Launch, RiffTrax (from the creators of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) and angel investors including RiffTrax CEO David G. Martin and tech executive Sriram Krishnan (formerly with Twitter, Facebook and Microsoft).
“Scener’s ability to coalesce storytelling and social experiences into a single platform, agnostic across major streaming platforms, is incredibly impressive and drove our confidence in this small and scrappy Seattle-based team,” SeaChange managing partner Susan Preston said in a statement. “Their product creates a genuine feeling of togetherness and has grown tremendously as a result. We are very bullish on what the future holds for Scener.”
RiffTrax is teaming with Scener to feature its comedic live-riff commentary events, synchronized with movies across streaming services. “We’ve been waiting our entire 14 years for this ‘perfect sync’ technology to exist in a watch party environment and Scener is the first we’ve seen to achieve it,” Martin said.
Throughout October, Scener is debuting watch-party series “Stream & Scream,” which will celebrate the best of horror. Programming will include a screening of Netflix’s “The Haunting of Bly Manor” (with “an unannounced, surprise cast member”); “Anna and the Apocalypse” with actress Sarah Swire; “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” with actor Gabriel Rush, and “In The Shadows It Waits,” a live lockdown horror movie as part of this year’s Raindance Festival, from writer-director Michael Beets.