Streaming Wars

Amazon beats Netflix to releasing the quintessential community watching app

Twitch Watch Parties is here to save your virtual movie night.

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In the age of self-isolation, it's difficult to hang out the same way we used to. Zoom parties can't replicate actually watching the latest streaming sensation with all your friends — but something else just might. Demand for a wide-scale community streaming app is growing, and Amazon has risen to the challenge with a new feature on Twitch: Watch Parties.

Your move, Netflix.

Watch Parties lets streamers and their viewers watch selected movies and shows on Amazon Prime together (as long as everyone has a subscription), adding in streaming reactions from the host and a chatroom for everyone else. While it's only available to U.S. Twitch Partners at the moment, but Amazon plans to roll the feature out to everyone in America in the near future.

If this feels like opportune timing, you're not wrong. Twitch and its parent company, Amazon, are aware that millions of people need new ways to connect online. The company added that it plans to expand the new feature worldwide.

"We appreciate all the feedback we’ve received so far, and have heard the need to make Watch Parties available to our global community," Twitch said in a blog post. "During this time of uncertainty, we know how valuable shared experiences like Watch Parties are to our community. This is why we’ve decided to open the beta to all Twitch Partners in the United States with an active Prime membership and will make it available to all creators in the United States who are Amazon Prime members in the coming weeks."

Twitch has actually been testing out Watch Parties since October 2019 with a "small group of creators," but this official announcement seems timed to beat rivals like Netflix or Disney and squash smaller, third-party services. The expansion of the feature follows the recent surge in popularity of Netflix Party, a third-party extension that allows friends to watch Netflix in sync with each other. Like Twitch, the extension provides a chatroom in the sidebar.

Netflix Party is a popular service, but it doesn't have official support from Netflix and only works in your browser.Netflix Party

Twitch Watch Party vs. Netflix Party vs. Rabb.it

Until July 2019, the frontrunner of community watching was Rabb.it, which basically provided a virtual browser shared with everyone in the "room" that could stream from any website — including those behind paywalls. For somewhat obvious reasons, Rabb.it was shut down, leaving those in want of this experience without any sort of backup. While there are countless third-party apps trying to cultivate the perfect virtual "movie night" experience, streaming sites themselves weren't motivated to create a native service.

Until now.

Rabbit's roundabout way of watching Netflix togetherRabbit

Amazon leveraging the Twitch platform in this manner fires the starting gun for Netflix and Disney (parent company of both Hulu and Disney+) to introduce similar options — we wouldn't be surprised if Netflix bought Netflix Party or is already working on a similar feature of its own

Using Twitch as its platform is unique, however, and shows another way the service is no longer just a gaming-focused platform. Netflix and Disney don't own similar streaming platforms, which could explain how Amazon was able to outflank its competition.

What shows and movies are on Amazon's Twitch Watch Parties?

At present, the list of streamable shows and movies for Twitch Watch Parties is limited to 73 titles. That includes popular shows like Spongebob Squarepants and Jack Ryan, along with niche offerings like RWBY (Volumes 4-6) and Dark Shadows. There are some true gems in the bunch, from the original Star Trek to The Expanse, a few older Marvel Studios movies, and a couple of films just itching for a hate-watch (like the live-action Ghost in the Shell starring Scarlett Johansson).

The limits of Twitch Watch Parties

It doesn't look like Twitch users will be able to stream everything on Prime's enormous library anytime soon. Each viewer must also log into their Amazon or Twitch account in order to watch, which could present difficulties for family members or couples who share accounts but aren't in the same physical place.

On Rabb.it, only one account was needed for the host. (If we can watch Netflix with our non-account holder friends in our own homes, surely we can do the same virtually.)

The future of Twitch Watch Parties and community watching

With community watch-alongs already picking up traction on Zoom, Twitter and even basic cable, it may be time to rethink how the internet views watching TV and movies. It's no longer a solitary event you discuss later, but a shared experience that happens in real-time. It's like hosting a movie night at your house, only anyone in the world can drop by.

In that sense, Twitch Watch Parties are just the beginning. It seems obvious that Netflix, Disney, and the rest will follow suit, making it easy to sync up with friends all over the world and enjoy an old movie or your latest streaming binge together.

Even after the threat of coronavirus subsides and quarantine watch parties are no longer a necessity, we may look back at community watching apps as one of the best things to come out of a very difficult moment in history.

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