The “watch party” craze continues to gain steam during COVID-19 quarantines.
The latest entrant in the suddenly bustling category: Caavo, a Silicon Valley startup that sells a universal remote control, has launched Watch With Friends — an app that let you stream Netflix TV shows and movies synchronized with other users on Roku and Apple TV devices, as well as Google Chrome browsers.
The free Watch With Friends app currently is available only in the U.S. for iOS and Android, and requires all participants to have a current Netflix subscription to participate.
“We created Watch With Friends to make it easy to watch movies and shows together from nearly any device on the best screen in the home from different locations, all through a simple mobile app,” Andrew Einaudi, co-founder and CEO of Caavo, said in a statement.
How Caavo intends to make money from Watch With Friends isn’t clear. For now, the company’s main goal for Watch With Friends “is adoption, and we see the app as an opportunity to build company awareness and reinforce our mission of seamlessly uniting entertainment for everyone,” a Caavo rep said. In other words, the app may be primarily a marketing tool to promote Caavo’s universal-remote system, which starts at $160. Netflix Party, another third-party synchronous viewing browser plug-in, says it relies on donations to its Patreon account to generate income.
Note that Caavo’s Watch With Friends (watchwithfriends.com) and Netflix Party that piggyback on Netflix are not officially affiliated with the streamer — but Netflix seems content to let the co-viewing cottage industry do its thing, given that there’s a network-effect upside in spurring new users potentially signing up. Startup Scener has offered a similar synchronized co-viewing plug-in for Netflix since 2018, and recently introduced an option for HBO.
To set up a Watch With Friends session, users copy the link for the Netflix program they want to watch together and paste it into the app. After naming the party and entering a host PIN for control, they can share the link to the watch party for anyone to join on Roku, Apple TV or Chrome browser. The Watch With Friends app automatically identifies a local Roku or Apple TV and gives you the option to play the show on either of those devices. The app also features a built-in chat, and each watch party can have unlimited guests.
Netflix, for now, doesn’t offer a native way to host “watch parties.” In the last two months — perhaps accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic — both Amazon Prime Video and Hulu have rolled out a watch-party features.
Caavo, based in Milpitas, Calif., and Bengaluru, India, has raised $32.5 million to date from investors including WarnerMedia, Hearts and Comcast’s Sky, according to Crunchbase.