Oct 18, 2021 - Technology

The living room is now a virtual hub

Illustration of two hands coming out of laptop screens to grab a bowl of popcorn

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Internet companies are leaning into new services that add a social component to the otherwise isolated experience of staying home in front of a screen.

Why it matters: These options for virtual watch parties, virtual concerts and communal gaming often rely on smart TVs — turning the living room back into a place to socialize with friends, even if they're not actually there.

  • "The advent of the pandemic meant that pretty much everyone faced the same problem: How can I easily spend time with friends and family online without it becoming a technical ballache?," PC Gamer Brand Director Tim Clark said.

Driving the news: The pandemic introduced a slew of new virtual "watch" and "listen" parties from nearly every streaming and gaming company. Those features are becoming permanent fixtures.

  • Streaming together: HBO Max launched a group watch party tool last month in conjunction with Snapchat. Apple over the summer announced SharePlay, a live content-sharing feature via FaceTime. Disney launched GroupWatch in 2020. Netflix Party relaunched as "TeleParty" over the summer.
  • Watching together: Even smaller video streaming experiences are increasingly coming together. Discord is experimenting with a new Discord group watch party feature, called Watch Together, that lets users watch the same YouTube videos together at the same time.
  • Listening together: Virtual concerts became a huge trend during the pandemic, as users tried to recreate their favorite music experiences from home. Gaming platforms, like Twitch, leaned into such experiences, hosting massive virtual festivals with A-listers. Roblox last month introduced "listening parties" that allow users to experience album debuts together virtually.
  • Gaming together: Gaming has long been a group activity, but chat platforms like Discord are making it easier than ever for gamers or friends to bond over everything from videos to live audio chats. Last month, Discord said it was testing a "Watch Together" feature for joint YouTube video viewing.

By the numbers: The vast majority of streaming activity last year happened in the living room, per Nielsen. An increase in viewing in the living room "speaks to the growth of co-viewing" as consumers came together during the pandemic, per Nielsen.

Yes, but: A generation of people are growing up in a world where they are constantly connected, even when they are miles away. While this creates an unprecedented level of closeness, it could also be what drives some people apart.

  • "Always being connected can create pressure and performance anxiety," said Colby Zintl, Chief Marketing Officer at Common Sense Media, and advocacy group for kids. "With kids, we know they benefit from having a separation."

Go deeper: Attention wars move to the living room

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