Pandemic lockdowns have given many people the time to binge watch hours of streaming, but not the ability to do so with friends. Now, Disney is looking to change that.
Disney (DIS)+ debuted on Tuesday a new social feature called “GroupWatch.” It lets up to seven people “watch together in a synced playback experience available across web, mobile, connected TV devices and Smart TVs, and share reactions in real-time,” according to Disney (DIS).
“We really wanted to create a product feature that was great for small groups, for friends and family, that was really easy to use,” Jerrell Jimerson, Disney+’s SVP of product management, told CNN Business. “We didn’t want your grandmother having to figure out a Chrome extension.”
To use the service, Disney+ subscribers select a title to watch and press the “GroupWatch” icon on the details page. The leader then sends out an invite to up to six other Disney+ subscribers, which then plays the content simultaneously on everyone’s screens.
While watching, viewers can react by using emojis or pause the title. Viewers can’t react by chatting or writing on the screen just yet, but Jimerson said it could become a part of the feature later on.
Disney had begun working on “GroupWatch” before the pandemic, Jimerson said, but the lockdowns taught Disney+ more about its consumers.
“We saw significant increases in engagement as people dove deeper into the catalog,” he said. “And we had more and more requests for features like ‘GroupWatch’ — people were trying to hack it through Zoom.”
Virtual watch parties over Zoom (ZM) and other co-viewing streaming products like Netflix (NFLX) Party — a Google (GOOG) Chrome extension that let users in separate places watch together — started popping up in the early days of the pandemic this spring. The popularity led to other major services like HBO Max and Hulu to consider social features.
Hulu, Disney+’s sister streaming service, has also tested its own Watch Party in which viewers can virtually watch and chat about content with other people remotely. Hulu said earlier this month that subscribers will have access to the function on the “Pen15” series for a limited time.
With “GroupWatch,” Disney+ is taking the next step in hopes the feature brings in more users to its already growing base, which includes more 60 million subscribers.
“It provides a really easy way to watch with friends and family, particularly in times when you can’t have four friends over on a Friday or Saturday night to watch something like ‘The Mandalorian,’” Jimerson said. “This is a great way to have a similar kind of experience with other people you would otherwise be hanging out with in person.”