Back in the dark days of the Covid-19 pandemic, the best streaming services fell over themselves to make lockdown less isolating – and GroupWatch, from Disney Plus, was one of the best. Launched in the US in September 2020, it enabled you to create a viewing party for up to seven people to virtually stream movies and shows with family and friends.
It was effectively Disney’s take on Amazon‘s Watch Party. It’s also something we’ve seen other streamers adopt – for example, Apple’s SharePlay is clearly based on a very similar idea. But GroupWatch wasn’t completely a Covid-19 invention.
Disney had been working on it already, but the pandemic accelerated its plans. But now it seems to have changed strategy and you’ll no longer be able to find GroupWatch on the Disney Plus website or app. It was reportedly removed on 18 September.
Why has Disney Plus removed GroupWatch?
So far it hasn’t said, but the reason is likely to be money. Disney is in the middle of a massive cost-cutting exercise that may also lead to Disney Plus following in Netflix‘s footsteps by removing account sharing. GroupWatch wasn’t an account sharing service – like other similar services you needed to have your own subscription to join the watch party – but presumably Disney has concluded that the cost of delivering and supporting group viewing isn’t worth it.
The timing’s rather odd, though. With the writers’ and actors’ strike continuing to postpone productions, you’d think that streamers would be doing their very best to differentiate one another by focusing on features just like this one – and so far at least it doesn’t look like Amazon intends to remove its watch party feature on Prime Video. Apple certainly isn’t getting shot of SharePlay any time soon.
It’ll be interesting to see if Disney also blocks access to apps such as Teleparty, a show-sync tool that currently work with Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus, Hulu and Amazon. That seems unlikely, as the service is providing a feature Disney doesn’t, and isn’t enabling content sharing with people who don’t already subscribe.
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