With much of the world hunkering down to limit the spread of COVID-19, many of us have more time than ever to work through our TV show watchlists.
But this can quickly become a lonely affair. As self-quarantines stretch on, we’ll need more ways to stay entertained at home while remaining in contact with friends and family members.
To that end, I’ve rounded up a list of “watch together” apps, websites, and extensions, which allow you to converse with other people while watching videos in sync with one another. Some let you communicate through text, and others through voice and video, but they all help fulfill the need to stay in touch with others even when you’re stuck at home.
Netflix Party is a straightforward Chrome extension that adds a chat window to Netflix videos. After launching a video, you click the “NP” button in your browser’s toolbar to generate a shareable link, allowing others to watch and comment on the same video, with playback synchronized across all devices.
Bear in mind that everyone still has to sign into Netflix separately, as Netflix Party doesn’t let you share access to a single account. (There are, however, other tools for that.)
Scener is conceptually similar to Netflix Party, with a Chrome extension that synchronizes Netflix playback across devices, but it also allows for video chat at the same time.
The downside is that it’s more of a hassle to use. After installing the extension, you must create a Scener account, and after setting everything up, I ran into some bugs: Netflix refused to load any profiles except the default one, and emoji didn’t seem to work at all. Still, the video chat function works as advertised, with resizable chat bubbles that float over the video window.
While the above options require a laptop or desktop computer, the free Rave app lets you host and join viewing parties on either iOS or Android. Best of all, it works with a bunch of video sources, including Netflix, YouTube, Tubi, and Google Drive (for your personal video collection). The app can be a little clunky to navigate, but overall it works pretty well, and it allows for both text and audio chat. For the latter, there’s even an option for karaoke, though I can’t comment on how well the music and audio chat sync up.
Just make sure to set your viewing parties to “Friends” or “Private” if you don’t want random people joining.
If you want to host a group chat for YouTube videos instead of Netflix, give andchill.tv a try. Like Netflix Party, it adds group chat around a synchronized video player, but it uses a cute movie theater metaphor that changes the viewing angle on the video depending on which virtual “seat” you pick. You can also string multiple YouTube videos together to create a playlist.
The site supposedly offers audio chat as well, but I haven’t been able to get it to work.
Facebook Watch Party
Here’s another group chat option, this time for videos on Facebook. To start a group viewing session on your computer, hit the “...” button under the Create Post menu, then select “Watch Party.” You can also create a viewing session from your phone or tablet by tapping the “What’s on your mind?” field, then swiping up on the post options to reveal Watch Party near the bottom. After selecting some videos for your playlist, you can choose who’s allowed to see the party in their timelines, and you can push out invites once the video starts playing.
The host of the party can also stream video of themselves, but guests can only comment with text, emoji, or stickers.
For something a little different, check out Twitch. Although it’s best-known for live streams of people playing video games, it’s been branching out into other areas lately and has several channels with marathon-style TV streams. There are channels for Poker, classic Iron Chef episodes, round-the-clock food shows, classic shows from Shout! Factory TV, and Mystery Science Theater 3000 from Rifftrax. And of course, you can binge-watch The Joy of Painting with the late Bob Ross, in what started as a publicity stunt but has since become a Twitch staple. As with all other Twitch videos, these channels come with comment feeds, so you can chat with strangers or invite your friends.
Plain old video chat
Of course, you don’t need newfangled apps to watch TV with faraway friends. If all else fails, just fire up a group chat in Facetime or Google Duo, decide what to watch together, and make sure everyone presses play at the same time. You’ll just have to supply the chat emoji the old-fashioned way—with your face.
Update: Here's a link to to an in-depth a how-to article.