People seeking a shared viewing experience have been offered a new solution from Hulu. The streaming service has started testing a new feature called Hulu Watch Party. The intent is to allow subscribers to watch the same content, at the same time, while physically in different locations. The feature will allow up to eight people to watch some of the service's titles at the same time.
Hulu Watch Party launched on May 28 and is currently only available on the website. So users can't start watch parties with friends through the app on a mobile device or TV. It is also only available to those who have a no-ads streaming package. Those who pay for Hulu with ads, or for those who have the service through the Disney+ bundle that also comes with ESPN+, are out of luck. The feature is, additionally, only available with select titles in the service's library at the moment. Hulu, in a post on its website, describes the feature as follows.
"Hulu Watch Party is a test feature that allows eligible Hulu subscribers to watch movies and shows together and connect over long distance. The feature synchronizes video playback for all participants and adds a group chat to the video being watched."
To use the feature, head to Hulu on a web browser and find a title available with Watch Party. Then select the Watch Party icon located on the Details page. After that, click start watching. Once playback has begun, select the chain icon to copy the link. That link can then be shared with others who can join the streaming party. An important note is that users must be 18 years or older to use Hulu Watch Party, though it's not clear how the company intends to enforce that.
Once in the Watch Party, users can chat with one another in a window that is located on the right of the viewing screen. One particularly nice feature is that individual viewers can control playback without affecting the entire group. If someone falls behind for some reason, or hits pause, they can instantly catch up by hitting a "click to catch up" button. The feature was built in-house by Hulu and doesn't require any additional plug-in or software to run.
During the quarantine, the idea of shared viewing platforms has become increasingly popular. Netflix Party, which is not directly associated with Netflix, became a go-to way for friends to watch movies or TV shows together on the service. Many publications and studios have also started doing online watch parties, with filmmakers joining in on the fun. The idea is to help fill the void at a time when shared viewing experiences are hard to come by. Movie theaters are closed down until at least July and, even when they open, it will be with drastic social distancing measures in place. This story originated at Variety.