Welcome to co-viewing: where TV meets social

Facebook recently announced its expansion into the world of co-viewing with its newest feature, Watch Party, which allows groups of Facebook users to watch the same video simultaneously. As constant connectivity has become a prerequisite for modern life, it is not a huge leap to assume that people will want to enjoy content with friends or family even when they’re apart. (Imagine watching England’s world cup success by yourself?!)

However, Facebook is not alone in the world of co-viewing, which has been popular in gaming for years. Sega’s Dreamcast console from 2000 was the first to offer gamers a direct connection to each other over the internet, although initially in text chat rooms. Xbox Live – the online community for the Xbox –  has 60 million subscribers, and has Skype is enabled on the platform. Furthermore, over 100 million people visit Amazon’s online gaming site and livestreaming platform Twitch each month. In the music world, Spotify has a social function with its ‘follow’ feature, and Apple Music has its ‘connect’ feature. There is clearly a huge level of demand for interaction and discussion around entertainment and a shared experience.

Missed connection?

However, a 2017 study from Ofcom found that in the world of TV viewing, 45 per cent of people now watch a programme or film alone every day, while nine in 10 watch alone each week. The time of families squabbling over tfghe remote seems to be over, with a third of Britons reporting that members of their household now sit together in the same room, watching different programmes on different devices.

Facebook enters the fray

So, what is Facebook offering? Watch Party will let users watch and comment on selected Facebook videos together within Facebook Groups. There will be a ‘host’ of the party who can add videos to the watch queue and control playback. There can be multiple hosts, but attendees can only suggest videos, not play them. Facebook is already using the feature to help bolster its original content, such as Red Table Talk, Jada Pinkett Smith’s Facebook show, which hosted a Watch Party to view the top three episodes together. While this is a similar format to websites such as Broadcast.com in the 1990s, and uStream.com and LiveStream.com in the 2000s, it demonstrates a demand for interaction and discussion at an instantaneous, popular level. Facebook says it built the feature to help video streaming become more of an experience than a passive action.

Facebook is not the only company focused on new co-viewing experiences. There is also Sceenic, a start-up focused on co-viewing software, which can be integrated into an existing video platform and add engagement features for viewers. It is now working with BT Sport on developing next-generation viewer experiences.

Is co-viewing the future of VR?

Facebook’s move into co-viewing could mark a change in how we consume entertainment, making connectivity a prerequisite for viewing video content. However, it will be interesting to see what part virtual reality plays in these developments. YouTube brought its VR video app to Samsung’s Gear VR headset last month, and announced a new co-viewing mode for YouTube VR. In this mode, users can enter public viewing parties with up to 4 viewers for each and every video on the service by clicking on a ‘watch together’ icon. Facebook also has its own app, called Oculus Venues that allows headset users to watch concerts, sports games and other live events together.

 Whatever the future of entertainment holds, its going to be social.

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About Sophia Abdo

Sophia Abdo is a recent history graduate who has joined MTM as a strategy intern. In her spare time, she is currently listening to the Mamma Mia 2 soundtrack on loop.