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Facebook watch party turns video into a group experience

A test lets people in Facebook groups simultaneously watch and comment on the same Facebook video -- live or already published.

Facebook's watch party feature, now in testing within Facebook groups, lets lots of people simultaneously experience the same video.
Facebook's watch party feature, now in testing within Facebook groups, lets lots of people simultaneously experience the same video.

What do you get when you cross an online chat room with streaming video? A Facebook watch party.

The social-network colossus has begun testing the watch party feature, which works with both Facebook Live videos that are broadcast as they're recorded and with ordinary Facebook videos that already are published.

"In a Watch Party, members of a group can watch videos together in the same space at the same time," Fidji Simoi, Facebook's vice president of product, said in a post on Wednesday. "With everyone watching, commenting and reacting to the same moments together, it creates a shared viewing experience for video that helps build the kind of community and engagement we've seen with Live."

The group-watching experience dovetails with Facebook's return to its roots -- friends and family sharing updates with each other -- that Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg announced last week. That move demoted more recent priorities like news articles on Facebook.

A promotional sticker shows Facebook's thumbs-up graphic.

A promotional sticker shows Facebook's thumbs-up graphic.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Live video is a big deal for Facebook and the internet in general, especially when it comes to attracting the younger set, analyst firm Parks Associates found in a report published Wednesday. About 12 percent of broadband-equipped households watch live video streams from services like Facebook Live or Twitter Periscope, but the figure rises to 19 percent for people aged 18 to 24, Parks said.

Spending even more eye-glazing time on Facebook may not help you keep your New Year's resolution to lose weight, but Facebook argues that the chat-room aspect means it's not merely vegging out. "As we think about video on Facebook, we're focused on creating experiences that bring people closer together and inspire human connection instead of passive consumption," Simoi said.

Facebook is beginning its watch party test within Facebook groups, a feature designed to unite people in a particular community. The group's administrator or moderators pick the video.

"We're starting with groups because one billion people use Facebook groups every month to connect around their passions and hobbies -- from foodies, to dog lovers, to sports enthusiasts, to fans of video creators -- and video is a huge part of this interaction," Simoi said. "While this is just a small test at the moment, we'll be learning, and hope to expand watch party in the future."

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