VisualOn – a streaming solutions provider – has launched a VIP feature for its co-watching solution, WatchParty. The ShowTime feature enables video service providers to extend a category of VIP content in which users can co-view content with their favourite celebrities through a branded interface, to help streaming service providers attract and retain viewers “particularly as they are experiencing subscription fatigue”.
Yang Cai, President and CEO at VisualOn believes that, although the pandemic accelerated the use of co-watching applications due to restrictions on gatherings, co-watching will remain a part of viewing behaviour after the pandemic. New data suggests co-watching is already very common: a survey of 2,519 U.S. consumers conducted by Hub Entertainment Research in 2021, found that 23% of TV viewers used a co-watching app. The report also shows that co-watching is a more popular activity among younger generations of viewers – 41% of viewers aged 16-34 said they’ve used a co-watching app, compared with 23% of those aged 35-55 and 35% of those aged 55 or older.
Cai suggests that co-watching will become even more mainstreamed as the number of innovative use-cases for the technology continues to proliferate. He gives several examples: “The technology could be used for sports or e-sports events, musical, or cultural events. You could watch a movie with the director, and while you’re watching they can make comments and tell stories about shooting the movie.”
He points to education or sports as other potential use-cases for the solution: “You can record an operation and mix the stream with a remote surgeon’s commentary in real-time, so students can watch and interact with their professors remotely. For sports games you can provide multiple commentators in different languages, and many different versions of the stream for audiences to choose”
The solution works by receiving the broadcast or streaming feed and relaying it to the relevant commentator. The audio and video feeds are then synchronised and delivered to viewers. This is all done in real-time. The celebrity/VIP commentator use the video and audio chat function, and viewers can choose their preferred commentator’s channel, interacting with them by posting comments in the WatchParty stream chatroom.
Cai spoke about the technical hurdles that are involved in creating co-watching solutions. He says: “It’s challenging because the service has to work on many different devices and systems – from mobile phones to Smart TVs, STBs and tablets. It has to work on all kinds of devices that support different formats. It has to work seamlessly across different platforms so viewers can enjoy the same experience. You have to make sure everything is synchronised and there are no glitches – latency has to be low”.
Referring to VisualOn’s previous partnerships with major media companies, including Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, as well as telcos such as AT&T in the United States and Telefonica in Europe, Cai mentions that part of VisualOn’s work is helping video service providers to overcome technical challenges. He says: “There are issues that arise when streaming so when there’s an issue, our partners come to us. We locate the source of the problem, help our clients to optimise their settings and their stream configuration. We work as close as close partners rather than just a vendor.”
The WatchParty solution can also integrate third-party analytics as well as VisualOn’s own analytics. Cai elaborates: “We have our own analytics that are focused on the quality of the service, reporting things like start-up time, buffering issues etc. We report information about user engagement as well: how actively they participate and how long they stay in the stream.”