Why Netflix, Hulu, Disney and Amazon Don't Want You Watching TV Alone

JP Mangalindan

JP Mangalindan is a senior contributing writer to dot.LA. His work has appeared in numerous publications over the last 18 years, including Bloomberg Businessweek, Fortune Magazine, GQ Magazine, Protocol, Entertainment Weekly, Mashable and Yahoo Finance. JP earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Fordham University.

Why Netflix, Hulu, Disney and Amazon Don't Want You Watching TV Alone

One brisk Friday evening in January at around 9:30 p.m., 15-year-old Ella rushed down the stairs of her home in Stevenson Ranch, California with an announcement for her parents, who were watching "Lupin," a new Netflix series, in the living room.

"Can you get off of Netflix in 15 minutes?" she asked. "I'm having a watch party at 10. Thanks."

Every few weeks, Ella and her four best friends assembled at their laptops, snacks and drinks in hand, to watch something on the popular streaming service with Teleparty, a browser extension that lets users view the same Netflix movie or show at the same time. On tap for tonight? Two episodes of "Gilmore Girls," a show Ella and her "best friend crew" had never seen. Although Ella, whose parents asked us to withhold her full name because she is a minor, couldn't be in the same room with her girlfriends, this solution proved the next best thing — and for the girls that night, it was.

Ella and her friends are just a handful of the millions of people who have adapted to these unprecedented times. With people now spending more time than ever at home because of the pandemic, streaming services are meeting demand by doling out fresh content and serving up new features that expand the viewing experience.

Over the last 12 months, Hulu, Disney Plus, Amazon Prime Video and Sling all rolled out virtual watch parties, enabling groups of people to watch shows and films at the same time. These features were in the works well before COVID-19 struck, but the pandemic spurred them to step up development.

Hulu's Watch Party featureHulu's Watch Party feature launched in May 2020.

Rolling out features like virtual parties is crucial in the battle for attracting and retaining users. According to a Deloitte survey published this month, 62% of people who signed up for a streaming service, did so to watch a specific show or film and canceled their subscription once they were done watching it. Features like virtual watch parties bring a social element into the equation that keep users engaged longer.

For Hulu, the Watch Party feature it launched its beta version in May 2020 started as an employee and intern hackathon project nine months before. But when the pandemic forced local governments to issue stay-at-home orders, Hulu accelerated plans for Watch Party and developed the feature in less than eight weeks. They rolled it out after initial tests indicated that over 75% of subscribers who hosted a Watch Party said they would do it again.

"We know that watching your favorite shows and movies has always been a social experience, and with TV becoming more synonymous with streaming, streaming has inherently become even more social," said Jason Wong, director of product management at Hulu, who added that the speedy development of Watch Party also stemmed from the fact that 60% of Hulu subscribers already streamed shows and films with others in their home, yielding a social experience unto itself.

"It was an ambitious timeline, but once we identified this need from our viewers, our team was very motivated to quickly deliver something."

In the 24 hours after launching Watch Party last December, Hulu saw over 10,000 unique Watch Party sessions with 60% of viewers in a Watch Party coming from its ad-supported plan. Moreover, Hulu tells dot.LA exclusively that users have held about 1.5 million Watch Party sessions to date, in which nearly 30 million messages were sent through the feature — and it continues to grow in popularity. According to Wong, the number of Watch Parties grew 5x from November to December last year.

Hulu's Watch Party featureHulu experienced a 97% increase in Watch Parties when Christmas comedy "Happiest Season" debuted in November.

New show premieres like the LGBTQ+ coming out series "Love, Victor" and Season 2 premiere of the teen comedy "Pen15," as well as films such as "Deadpool," "Parasite," and the Hulu original film "Palm Springs," proved particularly popular for Hulu Watch Parties. Also big? Episodic premieres, like "The Bachelor" and "A Teacher," a Hulu original limited series starring Kate Mara. When "Happiest Season," a Christmas comedy starring Kristen Stewart, Daniel Levy and Alison Brie debuted on Thanksgiving, Hulu experienced a whopping 97% increase in Watch Parties.

Five months later, Disney Plus released its own GroupWatch feature. The rapidly growing streaming service, which reported 86.8 million subscribers in December, took a different tack with GroupWatch, however: users can click any one of six "reactions," or emoji, that pop up onscreen during a viewing, but they can't send text-based messages.

That was a purposeful decision, contends Michael Cerdà, vice president of product at Disney Plus.

During GroupWatch's development, the Disney Plus product team conducted extensive research to identify what worked and what didn't. For instance, GroupWatch currently allows up to seven people in a GroupWatch session — a number the group settled on after agreeing that any more people in a session made it "too noisy."

"In our research, one of the big takeaways was that people wanted to feel like they were a part of something, but we didn't want to get in the way of the content," said Cerdà.

While Disney did not disclose engagement numbers around GroupWatch, Cerda acknowledged that Disney Plus users are more likely to hold GroupWatch sessions when highly-awaited new films and shows premiere, when Disney Plus launches in a new region, and around the holidays. Last Halloween, Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas" was the focus of many GroupWatch sessions. Other programming like the recently-released series "WandaVision," "The Mandalorian," "Frozen 2," "Lion King," "Clouds" and "Avengers: Endgame" also proved popular for GroupWatch sessions.

Sling's Watch Party, which launched last September, takes things one step further than its rivals, allowing up to four people to participate through video chat. For the Sling product development team, video chat was a "must have" part of Watch Party.

"When you're watching something in real-time, so much of our responses can't be verbalized," explains Jon Lin, vice president of product at Sling TV. "If something is really impactful, you'll see it on the faces of your friends and family. That's the kind of connection we wanted to capture with Watch Party, which is why we focused so much on creating a video chat feature — so it felt like the people you are watching with are actually right there next to you."

Disney Plus' GroupWatch featureDisney Plus is currently exploring expanding the ways users can communicate and share during GroupWatch sessions

Sling also would not disclose specific engagement numbers around their new feature, but said live events like sports have proven very popular for Watch Party users. The streaming service also saw an uptick on the evening of the 2020 U.S. presidential election in November, as well as around Christmas movies during the holidays, says Lin.

Netflix doesn't offer a comparable group watching feature yet — the third-party extension from Teleparty fills the gap for now — but it's likely coming. For services like Hulu, Disney Plus, Sling, Prime Video and others, the feature is yet another way to incrementally boost engagement on their platforms, particularly during a time when it's difficult — or in many cases, strongly discouraged — for people to mingle in groups.

"Streaming services have quickly adapted, and I think it makes absolute sense — it brings a social element, sort of like going to a movie theater," says Eunice Shin, a digital strategy partner who leads media entertainment and direct-to-consumer efforts at Prophet, a growth strategy consulting company. "It's smart for them to pull the feature onto their platform, as opposed to using a separate app like Airtime."

Virtual watch parties aren't just here to stay, it seems. Services are also finding ways to shore up the experience to make them more compelling.

Based on user feedback, Disney Plus is currently exploring expanding the ways users can communicate and share during GroupWatch sessions, including possibly text-based chat or offering more emoji reactions. Hulu said users are clamoring for the ability to throw a Watch Party with their friends on different devices. (The feature only works on desktop browsers at the moment.) Meanwhile, Sling recently updated the design of Watch Party's chat messaging and upped the number of non-Sling TV subscribers who can join Watch Parties, from one to three.

"It's only going to get better — it's going to get more refined." says Cerdà of virtual watch party experiences. "I think we're at the front end of something even bigger."

***This story has been updated to correct the timeline provided by Hulu regarding its Watch Party data.

🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.

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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.


Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle

Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out

Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities

Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo

SoFi Stadium Tour

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A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours

Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch

Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

🎬 Paramount and Skydance Are Back On
Image Source: Paramount

Happy Friday Los Angeles! Hope you all had a fantastic Fourth!!

🔦 Spotlight

Paramount and Skydance Media have rekindled talks to merge after negotiations abruptly halted in June. The proposed deal, contingent on approval from Paramount’s board, aims to combine Paramount’s extensive media holdings—including CBS, MTV, and Nickelodeon—with Skydance’s film expertise showcased in hits like "Top Gun: Maverick." This merger signals a potential transformation in the media landscape, positioning the new entity to compete more effectively amid challenges from streaming services and the decline of traditional cable TV.

Led by Shari Redstone, Paramount’s controlling shareholder via National Amusements, the deal represents a pivot towards revitalizing Paramount’s strategic direction amidst financial struggles and shareholder concerns. The involvement of major investors like RedBird Capital Partners and David Ellison underscores the financial backing aimed at stabilizing Paramount’s operations and addressing its $14 billion debt burden. Importantly, the agreement includes provisions to protect National Amusements from potential legal challenges, addressing previous hurdles that stalled earlier negotiations.

The deal also includes a 45-day period for Paramount to explore alternative offers, highlighting continued interest from other potential buyers like Barry Diller’s IAC and media executive Edgar Bronfman Jr. This flurry of activity underscores the significant stakeholders’ interest in Paramount’s future and its potential as a key player in a rapidly evolving media industry.

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  • Sidecar Health, a startup that offers personalized health insurance plans to businesses that allow members to see any doctor and pay directly at the time of service, raised a $165M Series D led by Koch Disruptive Technologies. - learn more

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