Hulu today is introducing a new feature called “Hulu Watch Party,” its first social feature that will allow viewers to virtually watch Hulu together at the same time while in separate locations and chat with one another within the Hulu app. The feature is being tested first on Hulu.com for Hulu’s “No Ads” subscribers for the time being.
It will work with thousands of movies and shows in Hulu’s on-demand streaming library, the company says.
To see which programs are available for this Watch Party viewing experience, users will look for a new “Watch Party” icon on the title’s Details page. They will then be given a link to invite their family and friends to join their Watch Party session, which can support up to eight people.
While watching, users can chat with one another in real time through a built-in chat function.
Plus, users will be able to control their own playback of the title without impacting the group’s experience — in other words, it’s not the same sort of shared stream experience as some similar services offer. But this way, users suffering from a poor connection or those in need of a bathroom break can rejoin the group when they’re ready. A handy “Click to Catch Up” button in the chat window will get them back in sync, if desired.
Viewers must be 18 or older to start or join Watch Party sessions, Hulu says.
The addition of the social feature comes following a surge of interest in apps and extensions that enable virtual watch parties for streaming services amid the pandemic. One browser plugin, Netflix Party, even went viral as U.S. consumers were forced to shelter-in-place during coronavirus lockdowns. HBO, meanwhile, recently partnered with browser extension Scener to offer a “virtual theater” experience that supports up to 20 people.
But unlike the existing options, Hulu’s Watch Party doesn’t require a browser plugin or extension of any kind. Instead, the feature works within Hulu’s website itself on both Mac and PC computers.
This makes Hulu the first major streamer to offer a co-watching experience directly on its site.
However, other video apps have experimented with co-watching before today. Streamer Philo once toyed with the idea, but the feature never made it out of testing. YouTube tested a co-watching app Uptime a few years ago. Korean and Chinese Drama app Viki, which is offered in the U.S., currently offers a (very amusing) real-time commenting section that allows for a group-chat experience. Amazon-owned Twitch launched Watch Parties for Amazon Prime Video. Instagram in March rolled out co-watching features, too and HouseParty debuted co-watching of events this month.
Plex is also today launching its own Watch Together feature to enable co-viewing.
Hulu Watch Party is live starting today on Hulu.com.