Hulu is starting to test a Watch Party feature that’ll allow subscribers to simultaneously watch a show or movie while hanging out in a group chat room.
Watch parties have grown increasingly popular over the past couple of months as friends and family who are social distancing look for new ways to connect. The services that enabled those watch parties have tended to be third-party offerings, though. There isn’t a built-in way to stream Netflix or Disney Plus with a friend.
This makes Hulu the first of the major streaming services to really tap into this growing trend. The feature begins launching today, but its availability is unfortunately very limited for the time being: it’s exclusive to web users, and they have to subscribe to Hulu’s pricier ad-free plan. Hulu says “thousands of movies and shows” support watch parties, which suggests that some titles may not work.
People with access to the feature will see a “Watch Party” icon on the details page of supported titles. They’ll then be given a link they can send to people they want to watch along with. Those people must also be using Hulu’s website and have an ad-free subscription.
The feature allows viewers to message each other in a shared group chat that appears beside the video they’re watching. Users can individually control their playback if they need to pause, and a “click to catch up” button will let them snap back to where the group is if they want to sync up again.
It’s a smart addition for Hulu, one you have to imagine other streaming services will want to offer as well. Watch parties are a fun way for people to stay connected, and they offer streaming services another way to increase people’s usage and reliance on them.
While Hulu is the first major service to offer a built-in feature, watch parties have existed in some form before now. There are a bunch of unofficial services that offer this for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and more. Some streaming services, like HBO, have also started to partner with companies for more official watch party offerings. And the BBC has started to build out a tool that works across many of its own platforms.
Some services already have platform-level watch party features, though they’re not quite as general-purpose as what Hulu’s offering. Amazon, for instance, allows its Prime shows to be viewed in Watch Parties, but they have to be hosted by someone who’s streaming over Twitch.