HBO is teaming up with Scener to give subscribers the ability to watch TV together

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People stuck in quarantine who might want to watch Game of Thrones or Watchmen with friends and family have the option to do so using Scener.

Scener, an online video chatting tool that allows people to sign in to their Netflix accounts to watch movies and TV shows with friends who also subscribe to the services, is adding HBO to people’s viewing options. Anyone with an HBO Now or HBO Go subscription in the United States can boot up the streaming service, create a private virtual theater for up to 20 people, and watch any title. Scener marks the first major partnership between WarnerMedia’s HBO network and an online co-viewing platform.

Joe Braidwood, Scener’s co-founder, knew that finding an easy way to give people the ability to stream and hang out with their friends online that also worked within the fragile copyright rules crucial to studios and streamers was important. Braidwood just “didn’t predict it would be a pandemic that makes it mainstream,” he told The Verge. “When the pandemic hit, we saw a crazy surge in demand for our product,” Braidwood added.

It wasn’t long after that various shelter-in-place orders went into effect around the United States. As more people stayed home, WarnerMedia reached out to Scener about a partnership. Scener and WarnerMedia started working together in March. The new partnership accompanies a new design for the site, including a recent update that helps to ease the stress on Google Chrome browsers running the app.

“We used to overlay the video and social channels, which injected a lot of code at once leading to a lot of stability issues in Netflix,” Braidwood said. “People were running out of memory because so much was happening on one Chrome tab.”

Since the update’s rolled out, Scener’s received a wave of positive feedback. Something it was hopeful for as usage started skyrocketing was seeing active usage increase 15 times on the legacy product, he said. Having HBO on board was added pressure. Co-watching isn’t a new concept, but “the approach that we take is a very safe and compatible with HBO’s vision,” Braidwood said. HBO, a network that deals with its most popular shows winding up on piracy sites hours after episodes air, wants to ensure that subscribers have the opportunity to watch shows with their friends they can’t see, but not at a cost to their network.

Piracy is, of course, an issue that Hollywood studios and networks think about, but so does Braidwood. Sites like Twitch often play host to pirated content being streamed by individual users. It’s how some people watched Game of Thrones, one of HBO’s most successful series. Twitch works to take them down, but on Sunday nights when Game of Thrones was airing, there seemed to be a new stream for every one removed.

Part of the appeal of watching a show or movie on Twitch and over Discord is socialization through chat. Braidwood thinks of the current moment like the music industry. Napster became a problem the industry was forced to figure out, and part of the solution came in the form of Spotify.

“It wasn’t until Spotify’s delightful UX and revenue split that the industry started to move past that problem,” Braidwood said. “Yes, people download and pirate movies, and streaming them on Discord and Twitch, but the majority of people don’t have the time or the patience for that. They want a delightful, easy experience.”

Scener isn’t the only company trying to get ahead of the co-viewing trend. Amazon, which owns Twitch, is letting streamers run viewing parties for movies and TV shows that are available on Prime Video, the company’s streaming service. Everyone who wants in on the party has to subscribe to Amazon Prime, similar to how people who use Scener have subscriptions to Netflix, HBO Now, or HBO Go. Studios and streaming platforms are looking at co-viewing now more than ever because the pandemic has created an increase in demand, but Braidwood doesn’t think co-viewing will only stick around while people are at home.

“There are watershed moments in history where black swan events change human behavior; that couldn’t be more true for America right now,” Braidwood said. “This is one of the first milestones that starts tracking the new path of co-viewing becoming more than just a trend. We think the sky’s the limit.”

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