Facebook today is rolling out a new feature that will allow friends and family to watch videos together over Messenger. The feature, called “Watch Together,” works with all Facebook Watch video content, including its original programs, user uploads, creator content, live streams, and soon, music videos. At launch, the co-watching experience can be used by up to 8 people in a Messenger video chat on mobile, or by up to 50 people in Messenger Rooms.
The COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged a number of streaming services — including Hulu, Plex and Amazon Video — adopt similar co-viewing features, or at the very least, unofficially permit third-party apps that enable co-watching, like Netflix Party.
However, Facebook didn’t just jump on this bandwagon. It actually announced its plans to develop a co-viewing experience for Messenger at its F8 developer conference two years ago. And the product has been in development ever since.
To roll out something like co-viewing across Messenger is a significant technical challenge. The service hooks into the Facebook Watch CDN (content distribution network), to pull the videos into Messenger. It also then developed a system that allows for tight synchronization between the various users’ streams of the same video. That, too, can be difficult, as someone in a rural area may have slower bandwidth speeds than someone in an urban metro, but the service has to make sure they’re seeing the same part of the video at the same time.
To use the feature, users have to first be in a Messenger video call or a Messenger Room — it can’t be kicked off from the Facebook Watch tab or anywhere else. From Messenger, they’re able to start a co-watching session by selecting the new option from a drawer that pulls up from the bottom of the screen. Initially, this feature is only available on iOS and Android mobile devices, Facebook says.
From the interface that appears, users can then browse or search to find something to watch together. Facebook Watch content is organized into categories like “TV & Movies,” “Watched” (your recently watched content), “Uploaded” (your own videos), and “Suggested.”
While users can’t create playlists or queues, all participants can help choose videos. That is, there’s not one person directing the experience for others. Everyone can also stop, pause, jump forward or back in the videos, too.
Though many may use the feature for a sort of lean-back co-watching experience, it has other potential. For example, a group could get together to watch a fitness video and workout together.
Though official music videos recently became available on Facebook Watch, thanks to Facebook’s new deal with record labels, they’re not immediately available in this co-viewing experience. However, Facebook says that they’ll be added in the next few weeks, initially in the U.S., India and Thailand to start. Each market will also feature localized content under the “TV & Movies” section, too.
The feature will begin rolling out globally across iOS and Android, but Facebook intends to have web support ready in a matter of weeks, and other platforms, like desktop, will follow.