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Social Watching: a Short-Term Response to Covid or the Next Big Thing?

Manish Nath

Global Solutions Manager

March 24, 2022


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The global pandemic drastically changed video consumption habits almost overnight. One standout feature that has emerged is social watching, enabling consumers to watch with friends and family at a time when they were unable to get together. Is there a place for this new way of consuming content beyond covid? We think so, and in this blog post, we will outline five reasons why.

We have seen some big launches

Over the past couple of years, several key industry players have rolled out social watching functionalities. According to the Diffusion Group (TDG), there are more than a dozen services that offer some form of co-watching, most of which launched in 2020. Considering that many of these are major SVOD services, it is clear that this has become an important feature. For example, Amazon introduced its ‘Watch Party’ offering, which is included in the subscription for US viewers. Meanwhile, Netflix’s Teleparty synchronizes video playback and adds group chats to a number of popular video services, including their own platform as well as Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO Max, and Amazon Prime.

Once a feature becomes a mainstay on popular SVOD services, it is very difficult to remove it without backpedaling. As such, it is safe to assume that it will only really be removed if the cost or complexity of keeping it is not sustainable. This is not the case with social watching.

TV is social but you can’t always be together

TV has always been a social thing. This behavior may have shifted slightly over recent years as more people consume content on their own personal device, but many types of videos are still best viewed together. This is especially true for live sports but also for things like movies and reality shows. While the pandemic removed the ability to be together to the extreme, there are still other factors that will make this a challenge in the future. For example, friends may support the same sports team but live in different towns. Family members may have a tradition to watch a certain TV show but no longer reside in the same country. Social watching features rekindle the opportunity to get together, no matter where everyone is located in the world.

Social watching delivers new engagement possibilities

Video providers are always looking for new ways to improve engagement for viewers, opening up more revenue streams, as well as new ways to engage with sponsors and advertisers. Social watching certainly adds a new way for consumers to engage not only with each other but also with the content they are watching. It also delivers new opportunities for sponsors who, instead of sponsoring a hospitality suite or box at sporting matches, could now create bespoke video experiences with exclusive content that sponsors can watch together with customers or partners. That kind of approach is much more feasible in our global society with no need for people to travel long distances for a sporting match, but it still adds something unique.

Consumers are demanding it

It may have been catapulted by stay-at-home orders, but social watching has mainly been met with consumer excitement. A recent report from Hub Entertainment Research shows that 23% of viewers used a co-viewing app during 2021. The research also indicates that it is most popular amongst younger viewers (a demographic that many video providers are keen to attract); with 41% of those aged 16-34 watching together, compared to 23% of 35-54-year-olds and only 3% of those aged 55 or older. However, there seems to be room for different services targeting different demographics. For example, Amazon Watch Party is more likely to be used by customers aged 35-54 (57%) than those aged 16-34 (37%).

While it could be argued that these figures have been amplified by the pandemic, there are clear indications that consumers are keen to keep watching together. The report from TDG highlights that both users and non-users of social watching features are expressing interest in the behavior in a world post covid.

Social watching is relatively easy to implement

Many advanced innovative features fail to reach mainstream adoption because implementing them is so complex. This is especially true in cases that require content to be produced in a whole different format, such as the need for 3D to support VR functionalities. In the case of social watching, there are a plethora of tools that make it simple and cost-effective to launch these features and instantly improve engagement. This greatly reduces the barriers to entry for any type of provider and means we will likely see more widespread adoption over the coming months.

Talking about the rise in co-viewing apps, the co-author of the Hub Entertainment Study, David Tice, commented: “Content distributors and streaming services that help enable this behavior will increase their appeal to young adults overall, and in particular young men.” This is an important factor for video providers who will not only want to increase desirability, in particular amongst younger viewers but also improve revenue opportunities for advertisers targeting this demographic. At Accedo, we believe that there are several interesting use cases on the horizon, some of which we will explore further in our next blog post on this topic.

In the meantime, if you would like to discuss how you can add social watching features to your video service, please get in touch.

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