By Dan Moren
May 28, 2020 11:38 AM PT
Plex and Hulu add group watching features
A few weeks back on Clockwise, our guest (and good friend) Jean MacDonald lamented that, in this age of social distancing, there’s no really great way to watch a TV show or movie with someone online.
Speaking as someone who’s been recording a two-person movie commentary podcast for almost seven years, I concurred with this assessment. But streaming services have apparently realized it too, as today, both Hulu and Plex have announced such features.
Hulu’s Watch Party will allow a subscriber to Hulu’s ad-free plan to send a link to others who can watch along with them. There’s also a shared group chat, the ability to individually control your playback, and a “catch up” button that brings you to where the party is if you have to step away for a moment.
However, it comes with a few restrictions. For one thing, not only do you have to be an ad-free subscriber, but so does anybody who wants to watch along with you. (I suppose that’s because syncing with dynamically served ads is a technical challenge, but also probably doesn’t hurt that it’s a more expensive plan.) Secondly, it’s only available on the web, so if you’re using a mobile device or set-top box, you’re out of luck for now.
Plex, on the other hand, is taking almost an inverse approach. All you need to use the new Watch Together feature is a free Plex account; then you can invite someone to watch a movie or show—from Plex’s on-demand library or your own personal collection. While the feature is in beta, it remains free and Plex is actively soliciting feedback for what features should be added. 1 It’s currently only supported on mobile and set-top devices, including iOS/tvOS, Android, FireTV, Nvidia SHIELD, and Roku, but is supposedly coming to web and other platforms soon.
I’m fascinated to see how tech companies are adapting to the world we live in, and heartened to see some of them take quick action to roll out features that help people connect. This is tech at its best, and here’s hoping that other streaming services like Netflix, Apple TV+, and the newly launched HBO Max quickly follow suit.
Personally, I like the suggestion that you could have people doing a commentary to a larger audience—Not Playing with Lex and Dan Live, everybody! ↩
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