All the ways to host a virtual watch party with long-distance friends
Stream a movie or TV show together even when you're miles apart. It works on Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO Max and other services.
Zachary McAuliffeStaff writer
Zach began writing for CNET in November, 2021 after writing for a broadcast news station in his hometown, Cincinnati, for five years. You can usually find him reading and drinking coffee or watching a TV series with his wife and their dog.
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Streaming service subscriptions make it easy to binge entire seasons of a TV series at once, watch new releases on Day 1 from the comfort of your couch and even save money by cutting the cord and giving up your cable or satellite service. Amid social distancing in the pandemic, streaming services even found a way to keep movie nights with friends going.
Movie nights used to bring people together into the same space to enjoy a film, and they made people feel like they were part of something and that others understood them. It felt like magic. Streaming services are bringing a little bit of that magic back by letting people watch movies and shows together virtually.
Whether you're on the other side of the country, or you're social-distancing across town, here are six ways to watch videos virtually with the people closest to you.
SharePlay -- introduced in iOS 15 and MacOS Monterey -- is a FaceTime feature that lets iPhone, iPad and Mac users share screens for watch parties with up to 33 people. The feature works with streaming services Apple TV, Showtime, Paramount Plus, NBA, TikTok and Twitch, and there are plans for the feature to work with Disney Plus, ESPN, Hulu and HBO Max soon. However, it doesn't work with Netflix or YouTube. For it to work, everyone in the watch party needs to have iOS 15.1 or later installed, and they need a subscription to the streaming service being watched.
Here's how to use SharePlay:
1. Start a FaceTime call.
2. Tap the icon in the top-right corner of your screen that looks like a person standing in front of a screen. This opens a drop-down menu.
3. In the drop-down menu, tap Share My Screen.
4. While in the FaceTime session, open one of the supported streaming services and start watching.
Anyone in the watch party can hit pause, play, fast-forward or rewind, according to Apple. If people talk during the show, SharePlay will lower the volume of the video until people quiet down. There's also a group chat icon in the bottom left corner of the screen people can tap so they can message each other without disturbing the video.
Teleparty, formerly known as Netflix Party, is a Google Chrome extension that lets you host a watch party for up to 1,000 people, if you know that many. It works for Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO and other streaming services. Note that each viewer needs to have a subscription to the streaming service being watched in order to join the watch party, and they also need the Teleparty extension installed.
Here's how to download Teleparty and host a watch party:
1. Open the Chrome Web Store in Google Chrome and search for Teleparty.
2. Click Teleparty.It should be the top result.
3. Click Add to Chrome.
4. Click Add Extension. The Teleparty icon, TP, should be in your Chrome toolbar now. If you don't see the icon in your toolbar, click the puzzle piece icon in the toolbar and click the pin next to the TP icon.
5. Open a video in one of the supported streaming services in Chrome.
6. Click the TP icon in the toolbar.
7. Click Start the Party.
8. A new page opens showing the video and a shareable link. Send the link to your friends and family.
9. To join the watch party, open the link and click the TP icon in the toolbar.
Teleparty has a group chat so people can message each other while the show is playing.
Hulu Watch Party
Hulu Watch Party is built into Hulu so you don't have to download or update anything. You can only share with up to eight subscribers of Hulu (no ads) or Hulu Plus Live TV (no ads). However, the service doesn't work for Hulu's Live TV offerings, and not every title is compatible with Watch Party. Hulu Watch Party can only be used on PCs or Macs that have the latest version of Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge or Safari.
Here's how to host a watch party using Hulu Watch Party:
1. Open Hulu and sign in to your account.
2. Go to the Details page of a movie or show.
3. Click the icon that looks like three people standing together.
4. Click Start the Party. For a particular episode of television, click the three dots next to a show's title. Click Start the Party in the dropdown menu.
5. A new page will open with a shareable link to the watch party, which you can send to your friends and family.
6. When everyone opens the link, click Start Party.
Hulu Watch Party also has a group chat so people can message each other throughout the show.
Prime Video Watch Party
Amazon's Prime Video Watch Party is similar to Hulu Watch Party in that it's built into Amazon Prime Video, and only works on movies and shows on the service. However, Prime Video Watch Party allows up to 100 Amazon Prime members to simultaneously watch a video. Prime Video Watch Party is accessible on Android mobile devices and tablets, Fire tablets, Fire TV devices and Google Chrome. It can't be accessed on iPhones, iPads, smart TVs, game consoles or in Internet Explorer or Safari.
Here's how to set up a watch party using Prime Video Watch Party:
1. Sign in to your Amazon Prime account.
2. Choose the title you want to watch.
3. Click the icon that looks like a horn with confetti next to the Play button.
4. Enter your name.
5. The video will open and display a shareable link. Send the link to your friends and family.
6. Open the link to join the watch party.
Prime Video Watch Party also has a group chat so you can keep in touch with everyone while watching.
GroupWatch for Disney Plus
Disney Plus has a built-in watch party feature called GroupWatch. The feature only works for Disney Plus content, and everyone in the watch party needs to be a Disney Plus subscriber. For movies that launch under Premier Access like Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, everyone in the party needs to unlock the video on their own or you can wait for the standard release of those movies. Only seven people can watch simultaneously, and kid accounts can't use GroupWatch, according to Disney. You can use GroupWatch on a desktop or Mac, or through the Disney Plus app on iOS and Android devices.
Here's how to set up a watch party using GroupWatch:
1. Log in to Disney Plus.
2. Choose the title you want to watch.
3. Click the icon next to Play that looks like three people standing together. This opens a page with your user icon and a Plus sign.
4. Click the Plus sign and a shareable link is generated.
5. Send the shareable link to your friends and family.
6. When everyone is in the party, anyone can click Play.
GroupWatch doesn't have a group chat function, but members can react to what's happening onscreen by using emojis. Any member can also pause, play, rewind or fast-forward the content.
If everyone in your friend group has a different streaming service, or if you have a DVD or Blu-ray player attached to your computer, you can still have a watch party. Just use Zoom, Google Meet or any other free video chat service. The major drawback is many free video chat services have a screen-sharing time limit, so this option might be best suited for half-hour episodes of TV.
Here's how to screen-share using Zoom or Google Meet:
1. Invite your friends to a video chat using Zoom or Google Meet.
2. In Zoom, share your screen by clicking the Share screen button in the bottom toolbar. In Google Meet, share your screen by selecting your screen, a tab or a window and click Share.
3. Choose a streaming service and start watching, but keep the time limit in mind.