With the entire world in self-isolation, nobody can go to comedy clubs or movie theaters or just hang out together in front of the TV. But you can bring back some of that shared experience by setting up a streaming watch party. These seven options will let you watch Netflix with friends while staying safe from the coronavirus.
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Kast is a video chat app with built-in support for watch parties. Once you’ve set up a free account, you can create a party. Clicking the “Invite Friends” button will notify your friends who already have Kast. It will also generate a link you can send to other friends. A nice thing about Kast is that they set your parties to private by default so randos won’t be able to crash the party.
Although you can access Kast through a browser, this is an app-based service. And that’s where things get tricky. Although Kast has apps for the Mac, Windows, iOS and Android, those apps aren’t feature-complete. Mac users, for example, have to install a third-party app in order to share audio.
Another downside is Kast’s freemium business model. You’ll need to subscribe to Kast Premium to get high-definition video streams, remove Kast’s advertising, post instant comments and use better emojis. The subscription costs $5 per month or you can shell out $50 for a year.
Metastream is a browser-based service with extensions for both Chrome and Firefox. The extension synchronizes playback on Netflix and other streaming services and supports real-time, text-based chat.
As long as your friends also have the Metastream extension, all you have to do is go to the Netflix website and start a session by clicking on the Metastream browser icon. You can create a playlist of shows by simply dropping the URL into your session’s queue. As the host, you can decide how much control your friends can have over the playback. Metastream also supports fullscreen video.
By far the most popular option on this list, Netflix Party is being used by more than a million people around the world.
Once you have this extension installed in your Chrome browser, starting a watch party is pretty easy. Just go to your Netflix account to find the video you and your friends want to watch. Start playing the video and immediately hit pause. Then click on the Netflix Party icon in Chrome’s address bar. Start the party and send the URL to your friends.
When your friends get the URL, it will send them to the Netflix website. When they click on the Netflix Party icon in their Chrome browser, they’ll automatically join your watch party.
Netflix Party keeps the video in synch and gives everyone control over playback. In addition, everyone gets HD-quality video since they are all connected directly to Netflix. (Subject to their Netflix subscription and any limits on their broadband.)
There are some limitations to Netflix Party. All of your friends must have their own Netflix account, they all have to use the Chrome browser and they all need to install the Netflix Party extension.
Many of the options on this list got their start on desktop browsers. Rave was designed for the mobile generation and is only available on iOS and Android. In addition to letting you watch Netflix with friends, you can create shared experiences by watching content on YouTube, Vimeo, Viki and other content sites.
Scener combines video sync and chat to let you watch Netflix together with the help of a Chrome extension. Limited to Netflix subscribers in the United States, Scener supports watch parties — called Scenes — of up to 10 people. Technically, only one person can control playback, but that person can pass control to someone else in the Scene.
One feature that separates Scener from the other options is its video chat function. By giving the Scener extension access to your webcam, you and your friends can interact directly.
Scener also has an iOS app that creates a “Bitmoji movie theater”. You can find other people watching the stream, chat and throw virtual popcorn at each other. However, you have to log in through your Snapchat account.
TwoSeven is another Chrome extension that works with Netflix, Disney+ and several other streaming services. To start a shared stream, click on the extension button and log into TwoSeven. Then go to the Netflix website and click the “Watch TwoSeven” button.
This is a Freemium service. You get support for Netflix as part of the free tier. If you want to share Hulu or Disney+ streams and get access to other features, you’ll have to support TwoSeven through Patreon. That used to cost $10 per month, but a new Social Distancer support level gives you the same benefits for only $3 per month.
Since TwoSeven only synchronizes your video, all of your friends need to have the TwoSeven extension, their own Netflix accounts and access to the same Netflix catalog. If your friends live in countries where that content isn’t in the Netflix catalog, then TwoSeven won’t work.
Watch2Gether lets you and your friends synchronize your content experience on Dailymotion, Soundcloud, Vimeo and YouTube. It also has a feature that lets you synchronize your Amazon shopping.
To get started, you go to Watch2Gether’s website and create a “room”. You’ll be assigned a random username which you can customize. You can click the add user icon to invite friends to the room, but you’ll need to know their randomly-assigned user names. An easier way is to copy your room’s URL and send it to your friends separately.
Unfortunately, syncing Netflix isn’t a standard part of Watch2Gether. A beta feature called W2gSync gets the job done, but with a few additional steps. Copy the Netflix URL of the show/movie and paste it into your private room. W2gSync opens the Netflix video in a separate window. If switching between the video window and the chat room is too much of a hassle, then everyone in the room needs to link their video window to the room.
Is This the New Normal?
Until 2020, all of these Netflix sharing services were relatively unknown and used by a limited number of people. But now these services are getting much more attention — and may not survive the scrutiny.
For one thing, many of these projects are creations of individual developers who may not have put much thought into privacy and security. Installing these apps and extensions can come with their own risks.
None of these services have formal partnerships with Netflix. The streaming giant has turned a blind eye to them in the past since they encourage people to use Netflix. This is the same way Netflix once turned a blind eye to streaming over VPN connections. But once the movie and TV studios think they are past the risk of public backlash, they will begin pressuring Netflix to shut down these sharing extensions.
Who knows? Netflix may even decide to cut them off so it can offer synchronized movie-watching in its own apps.