If we’re honest, most of us share our streaming subscriptions with more people than we ought to. The terms and conditions of our subscriptions say that we should only allow people living within our household access to our login details, but in practice, we share them with friends and family who don’t live with us. The subscription streaming companies know this, and for the most part, they turn a blind eye to it. If you push their patience too far, you might find that your account gets suspended, but so long as you stay within a tight circle, you’ll usually be OK.
Viewing habits have changed this year on account of the fact that people can’t go and do many of the things that they used to do together. Entertainment venues are closed, and even the few places we can go to are limited in terms of how many people can go there, and how many people can sit together. We’re all seeking new entertainment forms, and viewing parties are one of those new entertainment forms. For the uninitiated, a ‘viewing party’ involves multiple people watching the same TV show or film at the same time, but in different locations. You might host a video call on Zoom or a similar platform to talk about what you’re watching while you watch it. Disney has decided that it’s a fan of viewing parties, and is now introducing a new piece of functionality to make it easier for subscribers.
The new feature is called ‘GroupWatch,’ and will be rolled out to Disney Plus subscribers in the United States of America within the next few days. By sharing subscriptions through ‘GroupWatch,’ up to seven people can watch any show or movie on the Disney Plus platform simultaneously, and share reactions as they’re doing so. A viewer can press a button to indicate that they’re sad, surprised, or amused, and their response will appear on the screen for the other members of the viewing party to see. Think of it almost like Facebook, where you can use emojis to react to posts made by your friends, but happening in real-time among a group of people watching television. Any viewer can pause, rewind, or fast forward whatever’s on screen, and the desired action will happen for every viewer simultaneously. In theory, everybody’s viewing experience should be exactly the same.
The move is the latest Disney attempt to get ahead in the ‘streaming wars,’ which sees the Disney service in direct competition with Amazon Prime, Netflix, and several other big-name entertainment brands. The battle between the brands can be compared to the battle between online slots websites – a form of entertainment on which streaming is based. A few years ago, gamblers would go to the online slots website like Dove Casino that offered the best games. Now the majority of them offer similar games – with the biggest-name games appearing on all of the biggest-name websites – the competition is fought on the basis of who can offer the best ‘perks’ to members instead. With online slots websites, those ‘perks’ might be introductory offers or loyalty rewards. With streaming services, perks might include discounts, exclusive content, or new features like the one that Disney has announced with ‘GroupWatch.
Whether any new subscribers will be attracted to Disney Plus via the ‘GroupWatch’ feature remains to be seen, but it marks the latest development in what has been a remarkable first twelve months for the service. The world’s largest entertainment company launched Disney Plus in November 2019, and by the start of August 2020 had grown to the point where it has more than sixty million active subscribers. It still has a long way to go before it catches up with Netflix, which is understood to have around 170 million paying subscribers, and Amazon Prime, which is thought to have 150 million. Both of those services have had several years to amass those impressive numbers, though. Disney Plus is still in its infancy by comparison and growing rapidly. If its current rate of subscriber expansion continues, it should reach or pass one hundred million subscribers early in 2021, and become a serious contender for the title of ‘most popular streaming service’ by the end of next year.
While this is a new move for Disney, it’s not exactly a new feature for streaming services in general. As many people have pointed out on social media, the ‘GroupWatch’ feature performs the same function as ‘watch party’ on Amazon. Netflix does not yet have its own version of the feature, but given that both of its biggest rivals have adopted such a platform, it’s probably only a matter of time until they follow suit. It’s already possible to use web-browser extensions like Scener to watch subscription television shows together, but it’s thought that the streaming companies aren’t fans of the service. Scener also requires everybody involved in the watch party to be viewing through a web browser, whereas the new Disney service allows people to watch together on any device of their choosing.
The new feature was tested in select countries in August this year and is expected to become available for all US-based Disney Plus subscribers within the next few days. It may even be available by the time you read this article. The timeline for when users based outside the United States of America might be able to use ‘GroupWatch’ isn’t yet clear, but it’s thought that Disney hopes to roll it out across Europe within the next month, and then ideally have it in place for all subscribers in all countries by the end of 2020. the only thing better than curling up on the sofa and watching your favorite television show or movie is curling up with someone close to you and doing the exact same thing – so while it might not be possible to do that for the foreseeable future, Disney Plus and its ‘GroupWatch’ feature might be the next best thing. If you’re a Disney Plus subscriber and you have no other plans for the weekend, consider finding a friend to watch a Disney classic or two with and share the experience!