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MIT Technology Review

This is how you can co-watch during a coronavirus lockdown

“Co-watching” is how we’ll be socializing for the next few weeks at least.

March 24, 2020
woman cowatch netflix party coronavirus quarantine eating pizza discord metastream zoom facetimewoman cowatch netflix party coronavirus quarantine eating pizza discord metastream zoom facetime
woman cowatch netflix party coronavirus quarantine eating pizza discord metastream zoom facetime
Marvin Meyer via Unsplash

Instagram has announced that it is launching “co-watching”—and it’s how we’ll be socializing for the next few weeks at least.

What’s co-watching? Pretty much what it sounds like: Gather one or more pals by tapping the video-chat icon in the top right corner of a direct thread, next to the information icon. A screen appears letting the other participants know you contacted them; once you’re all on board, you can watch saved, liked, or suggested photos and videos together by tapping the camera icon in the bottom left corner of the video chat.

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Co-watching is having a moment. And we’re not just talking about the days of “Netflix and chill” (with all that implies). Shared screens are allowing friends and family to watch a film together apart, sharing the experience while practicing social distancing.

Here are some ways to co-watch:

Netflix Party: The free Chrome extension has seen an explosion in downloads. Each viewer needs a Netflix account; once downloaded, the extension appears in Netflix’s own browser. Pick what you want to watch, click on the Netflix Party extension to share your choice with your group, et voilà: the movie begins with a group chat bar, allowing viewers to type and chat. Bonus: there’s no video or audio chatting, which means you can watch your movie in co-silence, without the annoyance of pings interrupting a crucial moment.

Metastream: Another free Chrome extension widens your selection beyond Netflix to YouTube videos (we could all use a steady stream of cat videos right now) along with Hulu, SoundCloud, Twitch, and even Reddit, if going into deep rabbit holes on arcane topics is your friend group’s thing. As with Netflix Party, the chat function keeps the viewing experience pure. You can also curate a stream of YouTube videos, should you want to create a personal queue.

Discord: For co-playing video games, Discord has long been the platform of choice, allowing users to step in and out of an activity and do something else on the side. You download it as a separate app.

Old school: Maybe you’re not into Chrome extensions, or maybe you just don’t want to download another thing. The classic, no-tech-experience-required fix is to position a screen so it faces a video calling app like Zoom or FaceTime, and then just watch whatever it is you want to watch together. If screen and sound quality aren’t a big deal, this is a quick fix.

Could co-watching change how we consume entertainment? Possibly. Twitch’s video-game streams have established that people like to connect with others while watching a video. And way back in 2014, when Netflix and chilling was a thing, the platform Rabb.it was a hit with people who wanted to sync videos and do a group chat. Rabb.it is no more, but a new wave of apps is helping to reproduce the warm, fuzzy feelings of taking in a movie together. Now, what shall we watch?