Most of us are social creatures and even when apart, we strive to be together. The bond that we create from shared activity, such as watching movies together, runs deeper than one might think. Research published in a scientific journal which involved chimpanzees watching a video in pairs, showed how they became more sociable with each other after the viewing session ended. This indicates that the bond we form from activities such as watching video content together has deep evolutionary roots.
This desire to connect is at the heart of Social Experiences a.k.a SocialX functionalities. It became an important feature for many video consumers during the covid-19 pandemic, enabling them to watch together when stay-at-home directives forced them to be apart. A survey carried out last year found that co-watching was more popular with Generation Z than other demographic groups. 41% of respondents aged 16-34 said that they have used a co-viewing app, compared with 23% of those 35-54 and only 3% of those 55+.
Now that life has pretty much returned to normal, does social watching still have an important role to play? If so, how critical will it be for service providers and what type of content will lend itself best to a shared viewing environment?
Meeting consumer demand
Many of the big players were quick to launch some kind of co-watching feature during the pandemic to meet this sudden spike in consumer demand. Fast forward to 2022 and from the continued improvement of the social features available on most OTT services, along with the launch of some new services, it looks like these types of functionalities are here to stay.
A quick review of co-watching services available at the moment shows that most, if not all, of the mainstream offerings provide some kind of social watching feature. Netflix Teleparty allows consumers to choose a film from Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max or Amazon Prime then share the link with friends so that everyone can watch together. Both Amazon Prime Video and Hulu enables customers to watch movies in sync using the services’ watch party features. In a similar way, Disney+ users can use the services GroupWatch functionality and other services, such Scener and twoseven, allow consumers to co-watch content from a range of video providers.
More than just movies and TV
It is not just movies and TV series that people want to watch with others. Live sports content, live events, fitness and even educational streams can all be accessed via different kinds of watch together services.
Sports content in particular seems to have a lot of potential for shared viewing, perhaps because, by its very nature, watching sports is a highly sociable pastime. During the pandemic, many sports events responded to lock down circumstances by introducing social watching experiences as a means of giving fans access to the live sports action that they were still craving. For the first time, fans could enjoy watching live matches from home, at the same time as interacting with friends and family. Although sporting events are once again operating as usual, there appears to still be a demand for these watch together environments. Earlier this year, Disney rolled out its first shared watching experience for live sports viewers by making Apple’s Shareplay co-viewing experience for FaceTime available for its ESPN app users. The feature makes it possible for sports fans to watch live sports together using the ESPN+ streaming service while on a FaceTime call.
Other kinds of live events are also taking advantage of the feature in a bid to increase viewer engagement. For example, NASA had planned to broadcast the postponed Artemis-1 launch on a zoom watch party, with live content and discussions featuring space experts. In a similar way, many fitness brands are using co-viewing features to their advantage, allowing friends to take part in instructor-led virtual classes together. One example is fitness streaming platform Krew that released a social watching feature to its app earlier this year.
Group Video calling lies at the heart of industries like EduTech and Telemedicine.Easily explained, a lecture is recorded in a way where both teachers and students are able to watch the video back from any location in the world, allowing for a level of interactivity and engagement that doesn’t easily happen in physical lecture halls.The ability to have remote sessions allows teachers to be able to host classes remotely. This has led to many universities coming up with Hybrid or remote course programs as technology is now bridging the gap between remote and in person classrooms. In fact, a recent report by the Open University has identified watch parties as being one of the top ten new innovative forms of teaching methods likely to result in major shifts in educational practice. Additionally for telemedicine, it is projected that the North America Telehealth market worth $9,496.6 million by 2024, at a CAGR of 24.3% from 2018 as per a report by Meticulous Research.
Role in video provision post Covid
As video providers compete for users in an increasingly competitive market, there is a constant need to innovate and improve engagement. Social watching has the potential to unlock new opportunities for engaging viewers but is also a route to unlocking new revenue streams. In the live sports vertical, for example, sponsors and rights owners can create exclusive shared experiences for fans to join where they can engage with teams and players. Similarly, in entertainment, viewers could join watch parties to engage personally with their favorite stars. As we move forward towards a time where extended reality and the metaverse becomes part of our everyday existence, we may well see these social watching experiences take on a much more immersive form than simply watching the events on a screen while talking to friends and family over voice call or messaging.
It would seem that social watching does still have a role to play in the post Covid world although it is not yet a critical ‘must have’ feature for all streaming services. Social watching does not only meet the deep-rooted human need to engage with others, but it also provides a different way for consumers to interact with content, whether that be for entertainment, work, learning, fitness, or perhaps something entirely different.