All the ways to organize a virtual evening with friends from a distance

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Streaming services make it easy to view content virtually with friends and family.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Streaming service subscriptions allow you to gorge on entire seasons of a TV series at a time, watch new releases on Day 1 from the comfort of your couch and even save money by cutting the cord and forgo your cable or satellite service. Amid the social distancing from the pandemic, streaming services have even found a way to keep movie nights going with friends.

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Brett Pearce / CNET

Movie nights brought people together in the same space to enjoy a movie, and they made people feel like they were part of something and that others understood them. It was magical. Streaming services bring back some of that magic by allowing people to watch movies and shows together virtually.

Whether you’re across the country or heading out of town, here are six ways to virtually watch videos with the people closest to you.

SharePlay

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SharePlay works on all Apple devices with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, or MacOS Monterey.

Apple

SharePlay – introduced in iOS 15 and MacOS Monterey – is a FaceTime feature that allows iPhone, iPad and Mac users to share screens to watch parties with up to 33 people. The feature works with Apple TV, Showtime, Paramount Plus, NBA, TikTok, and Twitch streaming services, and the feature is slated to work with Disney Plus, ESPN, Hulu, and HBO Max soon. However, it does not work with Netflix or YouTube. For this to work, all members of the monitoring team must have iOS 15.1 or later installed, and they need a subscription to the monitored streaming service.

Here’s how to use SharePlay:

1. Start a FaceTime call.

2. Tap the icon in the upper right corner of your screen that looks like a person standing in front of a screen. This opens a drop-down menu.

3. From the drop-down menu, tap Share my screen.

4. During the FaceTime session, open one of the supported streaming services and start watching.

Anyone on the monitoring team can press pause, play, fast-forward, or rewind, according to Apple. If people are talking during the show, SharePlay will turn down the volume of the video until people are silent. There’s also a group chat icon in the lower left corner of the screen that people can tap so they can message each other without disrupting the video.

Teleparty

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Teleparty is the new name for Netflix Party.

Teleparty

Teleparty, formerly known as Netflix Party, is a Google Chrome extension that lets you host a party night for up to 1,000 people, if you know that many. It works for Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, HBO, and other streaming services. Note that each viewer must have a subscription to the streaming service being watched to join the watch party, and they also need the Teleparty extension installed.

Here’s how to download Teleparty and organize a watch party:

1. Open the Chrome Web Store in Google Chrome and search Teleparty.

2. Click on Teleparty. It should be the best result.

3. Click on Add to Chrome.

4. Click on Add extension. The Teleparty icon, TP, should be in your Chrome toolbar now. If you don’t see the icon in your toolbar, click the puzzle piece icon in the toolbar and click the pin next to the TP icon.

5. Open a video in one of the supported streaming services in Chrome.

6. Click it TP icon in the toolbar.

7. Click on Start the party.

8. A new page opens displaying the video and a shareable link. Send the link to your friends and family.

9. To join the watch party, open the link and click on the button TP icon in the toolbar.

Teleparty has a group chat so people can message each other while the show is on air.

Hulu Watch Festival

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Hulu’s new Watch Party feature allows up to eight people to virtually watch content together.

Hulu

Hulu Watch Festival is built into Hulu, so you don’t have to download or update anything. You can only share with a maximum of eight subscribers from Hulu (no ads) or Hulu Plus Live TV (no ads). However, the service does not work for Hulu’s live TV offerings, and not all titles are compatible with Watch Party. Hulu Watch Party can only be used on PCs or Macs with the latest version of Google Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Safari.

Here’s how to host a watch party using Hulu Watch Party:

1. Open Hulu and sign in to your account.

2. Go to Details page of a movie or program.

3. Click on the icon that looks like three people standing together.

4. Click on Start the party. For a particular TV episode, click on the three dots next to a show’s title. Click on Start the party from the drop-down menu.

5. A new page will open with a shareable link to the watch party, which you can send to your friends and family.

6. When everyone opens the link, click Start party.

Hulu Watch Party also offers group chat so people can message each other throughout the show.

Prime video evening

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Prime Video Watch Party allows users to host virtual watch parties for Amazon Prime Video content.

that of Amazon Prime video evening is similar to Hulu Watch Party in that it is integrated with Amazon Prime Video and only works on movies and shows of the service. However, Prime Video Watch Party allows up to 100 Amazon Prime members to simultaneously watch a video. Prime Video Watch Party is available on Android mobile and tablet devices, Fire tablets, Fire TV devices, and Google Chrome. It is not accessible on iPhones, iPads, smart TVs, game consoles, or in Internet Explorer or Safari.

Here’s how to set up a watch party using Prime Video Watch Party:

1. Log into your Amazon Prime account.

2. Choose the title you want to watch.

3. Click the icon that looks like a horn with confetti next to the Play button.

4. Enter your name.

5. The video will open and display a shareable link. Send the link to your friends and family.

6. Open the link to join the watch party.

Prime Video Watch Party also offers group chat so you can stay in touch with everyone while watching.

GroupWatch for Disney Plus

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GroupWatch is Disney Plus’s virtual watch feature.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Disney Plus has a built-in monitoring feature called GroupWatch. The feature only works for Disney Plus content, and everyone on the watch team must be a Disney Plus subscriber. For films launched under Premier Access such as Black Widow and Jungle cruise, everyone in the group has to unlock the video by themselves or you can wait for the standard output of these movies. According to Disney, only seven people can watch simultaneously, and children’s accounts cannot use GroupWatch. You can use GroupWatch on a desktop or Mac, or through the Disney Plus app on iOS and Android devices.

Here’s how to set up a watch party using GroupWatch:

1. Log in to Disney Plus.

2. Choose the title you want to watch.

3. Click the icon next to Play which looks like three people standing together. This opens a page with your user icon and a More sign.

4. Click it More sign and a shareable link is generated.

5. Send the shareable link to your friends and family.

6. When everyone is in the group, anyone can click To play.

GroupWatch does not have a group chat feature, but members can react to what is happening on the screen using emojis. Any member can also pause, play, rewind or fast forward the content.

Screen sharing

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Zoom is a free screen sharing service that you can use to organize virtual sleepovers.

Sarah Tew / CNET

If everyone in your friend group has a different streaming service, or if you have a DVD or Blu-ray player connected to your computer, you can still have a night out. Just use Zoom, Google meet or any other free video chat service. The major downside is that many free video chat services have a screen sharing time limit, so this option may be better suited for half hour TV episodes.

Here’s how to share the screen with Zoom or Google Meet:

1. Invite your friends for a video chat using Zoom or Google Meet.

2. In Zoom, share your screen by clicking on the Share screen button in the lower toolbar. In Google Meet, share your screen by selecting your screen, a tab, or a window and click To share.

3. Pick a streaming service and start watching, but keep the time limit in mind.

For more information on streaming services, see the best live tv streaming services, or consult the best Black Friday TV deals.


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