It is the most ambitious push into social viewing by any streaming service yet, expanding on efforts by Hulu and Amazon Prime Video as well as apps like Netflix Party and Scener, which added Disney+ to its roster over the summer. Unlike those other offerings, though, Disney’s GroupWatch is not a web browser extension or something limited to a laptop. It is available, with a few minor exceptions, on all connected platforms where Disney+ can be viewed, on screens of all sizes.
By tapping the GroupWatch icon on a series or film on Disney+ via a mobile device or the web, a subscriber can invite others to join. Once those invites are accepted, the viewing session can occur via a connected-TV device or smart TV.
When the feature is added to Disney+ accounts starting Tuesday morning, it will be only in the U.S. In the fall, European territories will gain the capability. In order to co-view across continents, the same versions of the same titles will need to be available in every country.
Disney went live with GroupWatch after test runs in Canada, Australia and New Zealand earlier this month.
At launch, GroupWatch does not offer text messaging, which is a key component of the existing plug-ins and social viewing initiatives. Instead, participants can respond to programming with one of six emojis: “like,” “funny,” “sad,” “angry,” “scared” and “surprised.”
Advanced synchronization technology accounts for any lag in connections among the participants and allow any of the GroupWatch viewers to pause as needed.
“Storytelling comes alive when you’re able to share and enjoy it with others, and in this moment when many are still apart from their friends and family, GroupWatch offers a way to safely connect virtually by co-viewing your favorite Disney+ stories with your favorite people from the comfort of your living room,” Jerrell B Jimerson, SVP Product Management for Disney+, said in a press release.
In an interview, Jimerson noted that GroupWatch had been in development before COVID-19 upended society and culture in early 2020, but it gained relevance given the remote-ness of life this year.
In August, Disney reported having reached 60.5 million global subscribers since launching Disney+ in November 2019. It came to market along with Apple TV+, and HBO Max and Peacock have since also joined the fray. The new streaming services aim to close the gap with Netflix and other incumbents.
Disney got early traction with Disney+ thanks to Star Wars spinoff series The Mandalorian, which is about to see the debut of its second season. Movies have played an outsized role in the development of the service due to the closure of movie theaters in many territories due to the pandemic. Hamilton, a filmed version of the Broadway smash, debuted on Disney+ over the July 4 holiday weekend and Mulan, a big-budget, live-action title, debuted this month as a $30 premium item for subscribers.
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