How can we engage viewers during co-watching, and…is this necessary?
Do viewers need to be entertained while watching movies and series? Or do films and TV shows themselves provide enough entertainment, especially when viewers aren’t watching alone?
We analyzed how VOD services and their partners launch Watch Parties, to see if the ‘movie plus communication’ mix is enough. So is it, or do viewers need something more? Here’s what we found.
Guests, Hosts and Influencers
The most popular and obvious idea for how to attract and entertain an audience while they are watching movies and TV shows is guest appearances. Almost all group co-viewing solutions assume that the chat-room-stream has a host who invites participants, manages the viewing process, comments on it, and can generally perform any function within this field — from thanking sponsors to critical comments on what is happening.
Watching the content together with a host or guests, of course, has its origin in TV-shows with experts coming on to programs, presenting films before they start, and discussing them after they finish.
Live premieres and screenings in offline cinemas and festivals operate in a similar way. For example, directors, actors or any other member of the film crew can present the film, and then discuss it with the audience afterwards, answering their questions.
But the digital watching format offers new opportunities for presentation with guests. For example, a film can be discussed in real time, especially if it is not a premiere, thus turning viewing of video content into an open podcast. It offers a lot of options, resulting in a kind of a vlog or Youtube analysis-mix or a Twitch stream, in addition to some of the more classic genre formats, mentioned above.
This is the path that Netflix, for example, is following. From time to time, in partnership with the Scener browser extension, the streaming service arranges premieres of major releases. Thus, in August, the release of the “Sandman” series went like this: anyone could join in co-viewing, and members of the film crew, as well as Neil Gaiman himself, acted as hosts.
Social networks are the main competitors for VoD services. What are they doing? Watching the feeds collected for them, following UG content, communicating and following influencers.
According to a Deloitte report, influencers are what is most important to users all around the global: about 80% of users follow at least one influencer. This means that if an influencer joins a platform, a part of his audience will most likely follow him.
HBO Max also held its own premieres with the help of a browser extension. One of the brightest hosts of their online Q&A events was Zack Snyder, who connected to the premiere of his “Justice League”.
When are viewers distracted from watching? It’s when they fail to follow a story and therefore lose context. But even this is easy to avoid. People have gotten used to browsing social networks in parallel with their primary activity, even when there isn’t any need. To maintain engagement and make more coscious use of the OTT platform, it’s important to capture the moment when a viewer craves distraction, and prevent him from turning to a social network for entertainment or to a browser, in search of more information.
The pioneer of this route has been Amazon Prime. They tested X-Ray functionality on Kindle books (sending users more information about the books while they were reading), and decided also to take a closer look at films and TV series.
So, for a large number of Prime Video titles, additional content has been created, tied to certain moments within a film or series. The viewer gets this content during the viewing process by pressing the player’s pause button. Often, this extra content includes all the information that is available on the title’s IMDb page (this movie database is also owned by Amazon).
This was a bright, innovative solution, which is suitable for movie lovers, though it was implemented in a rather boring and mundane fashion, and extra content is too predictable. If you are a cinephile, then most likely you are already aware of all the information available on IMDb; if you are a serious movie lover or are getting ready for a premiere, you have already googled all the information available on IMDb. But this innovative idea which began to be implemented back in 2012 and gradually spread to different devices is still alive and active, meaning that there are still plenty of X-Ray fans.
In addition to the task of keeping the users “on platform”, X-Ray helps Amazon create native cross-platform promotions. For example, sending viewers to Amazon Music for music from a film, to Kindle for books, and to the Amazon marketplace for purchases of goods related to the title..
But whereas the content sent by X-Ray is rather dry, emotionless and purely informative, the content Cosmopolitan sent to viewers in its joint project with Google was, on the contrary, seemingly too emotional and editorial. In 2019, Cosmopolitan decided to support the release of the second season of the “You” series, which was very popular among the site’s readers. Together with Google News Lab, they created an in-app page (which can also be accessed via a link in a browser), which was supposed to operate as a second screen on a laptop or TV where the viewer was watching the show. Viewers simultaneously tuned into Netflix and the additional content page, which was followed by messages from Cosmo displayed on a dedicated screen at certain points in the series.
While Google News Lab data lead Simon Rogers called the experiment a success, not everyone was in agreement. There was too much content coming from Cosmo during the browsing process, and this information was often delivered as friendly comment. While this might work with familiar films/series, here it provided a distraction as users tried to acquaint themselves with the premiere. In addition, funny gifs which flashed between the messages on the second screen, distracted viewers from immersion.
Last year, probably having learned from competitors’ and partners’ mistakes, Netflix announced its plan to launch N-Plus service. This will enable viewers to do many things right within the platform itself, including: create playlists of any tracks that appear in originals, receive photos and videos from filming, get additional information about content ‘here and now’, so that they do not have to google it, and so on.
In almost all services that allow viewers to watch content together, it is possible to send animated emojis: in some cases they fly into the chat, in some they even appear on the TV screen. Users love this interactive format: it’s an easy and quick way to share an experience without having to formulate comment or be distracted from viewing for a longer time.
The attractiveness of animated emojis was used in a completely unexpected way by Disney Plus for group viewing. There, users can’t do anything during co-viewing, other than send such emojis: neither text nor voice chat is available. But users have many concerns about this format for interaction, the most obvious being how they explain what they are happy or unhappy about. Because of this, they still have to go to instant messengers, so why then not send emojis in the messengers, themselves?
Surveys and quizzes
Most services that allow content co- watching use practically no polls or quizzes, or do this in association with sports content. But why? Viewers support their favorite heroes in the same way while watching TV series, as they do their favorite teams while watching sports, and they also like to share their opinions and search for other like-minded viewers. That’s why we at Watchers see the potential of engaging tools for any sort of content, whether award broadcast, reality shows, film premieres, or familiar classics.
What might users ask each other during an old movie? Just about anything! Learn who other viewers see as their favorite character, share a story or a fact, or put something on to play. In addition, engagement tools make it possible to enable the same cross-promotion and native marketing that Amazon does within its own limited ecosystem. Widgets in the co-browsing chat allow users to buy clothes worn by a film character on demand, order an interior similar to the one in that apartment being shown, or fly to Italy to walk around the filming locations.
Thus, although engagement tools primarily perform their main function — involving and increasing ER — they can also be the solution to many additional tasks that a content platform has set for itself.