Netflix Party is a good idea, but doesn't always work in real life

Commentary: Maybe there's a reason Netflix Party didn't become popular until now.

Jennifer Bisset
Jennifer Bisset
Jennifer Bisset Former Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
Expertise Film and TV Credentials
  • Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Jennifer Bisset
2 min read

Netflix Party doesn't feel like a party.

Netflix Party

Now that we're stuck in a coronavirus lockdown, everyone's talking about Netflix Party. 

The website, which allows users to watch movies online at the same time as friends, has been around for years. But it's only now, as people practice self-isolation, that it's become a thing.

Netflix Party works with a Chrome extension that generates a viewing link you can share with friends. No more trying to watch a movie at the same time, agreeing when to hit play -- then resigning to the fact that no matter what, you're always going to be a second out of sync. With Netflix Party, when one of you hits play, the video on both your screens begins simultaneously.

But Netflix Party has a few problems.

First off, you've got to watch it with the right movie or TV show. Tiger King, Ozark, The Platform -- anything with twists you can type-yell about to someone is a good option. Netflix Party is not made for straightforward drama.


Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep and a chatroom.

Universal Pictures/Netflix Party

Take The Post, a movie starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. I tried to watch it with a friend on Netflix Party over the weekend and it was a disaster. It follows the true story of The Washington Post as the editors decide whether to publish the Pentagon Papers and potentially go to jail.

For starters, the chatroom, which appears as an obnoxious long panel on the right-hand side of the screen, isn't instant. There's a delay between typing "MERYL!!!" and seeing it appear. All that typing also means you won't hear a word of what her character actually says.

Then there's the requisite bathroom break. What do you do when you need to pee? In this scenario the pause button becomes a land mine: when triggered, you unintentionally stop the movie on your friend's screen too. If you choose not to request a pee break, you'll return to find copies of the Pentagon Papers in Hanks' house. How on earth did that happen? Your friend will have to fill you in -- and endure more keyboard noise.

In the end you'll most likely do what we did: Pick up the phone and agree to switch over to Facebook Messenger. It was just easier and more practical than covering an eighth of our already small laptop screens for the forced nostalgia of a '90s style chat app.

For all its flaws and clunkiness, Netflix Party isn't terrible. I get what Netflix Party is trying to achieve. It's managed to pull off what only The Bodyguard did in the UK two years ago: bringing people together for a scheduled TV viewing time slot. The days of discussing movies at a water cooler are back, without having to worry about whether you're giving away spoilers, because neither of you are bound to personal streaming schedules.

Netflix Party gives us connection we crave during the darkest moments of isolation. But it doesn't always work in practice. The best way to enjoy it may be to ditch the keyboard and simply watch.

Our new reality now that coronavirus has sent the world online

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