Disney+ Launches Co-Viewing Feature

The Mandalorian
Courtesy of Disney+

New Disney+ feature GroupWatch allows subscribers to watch shows like 'The Mandalorian' together, even if they're in separate places.

GroupWatch allows up to seven people to view titles like 'The Mandalorian' or 'Hamilton' together, even if they are in separate places.

Disney+ is jumping on the co-viewing bandwagon with a new feature called GroupWatch.

The experience, which launches Tuesday in the U.S. after a test run in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, allows up to seven people to watch the same Disney+ title together, even if they are in separate places.

Few co-viewing experiences have been available on television sets, but GroupWatch works across a number of platforms, including web browsers, mobile devices, connected TV boxes and smart TVs. “If we had launched this as a [web] extension, out of our 60 million subscribers, it would have been a drop in the bucket that would ever use the product,” says Jerrell Jimerson, senior vp product management for Disney+. “The vast majority of our viewing happens on televisions.”

Jimerson adds that GroupWatch has been in the works for some time, but the engineering team at Disney Streaming Services waited to roll the out the feature widely until they knew it would work as intended. In particular, they focused on making sure that all the video streams would sync up. Jimerson notes that the feature was designed to work even if people are watching on different devices, in different countries and with different internet bandwidth.

Disney+ subscribers in the U.S. should now see an icon that allows them to initiate GroupWatch. They can then invite friends to join them. (Invitations can only be sent via mobile or web, but streams can be watched on any supported device.) The stream only starts once the user who initiated the GroupWatch hits play. If users join the stream late, they will join at the same point in the title’s runtime as the rest of the viewers. While they watch, users can react in-app by sharing emojis with each other. Additional communication, like sending text messages, has to be done outside the app, but Jimerson says his team is exploring adding more features that allow user interactions in the future.

GroupWatch is available across all Disney+ titles, provided they are accessible in a user’s home market. The feature is expected to roll out in Europe later this fall after its U.S. launch.