If we’ve learned anything from the events of 2020, it’s that the party doesn’t have to stop just because we’re keeping our distance from one another.
Technology has unleashed all kinds of interesting ways to stay connected and entertained. We’ve all gotten used to conducting business meetings, celebrating birthdays, touring vacation spots and experiencing a whole new way of looking at the world virtually, through the screens of our computers. Popular streaming services like Netflix®, Amazon Prime, Hulu™ and Vudu® have done their part by offering a huge amount of digital content to consume instantly in the comfort of our homes.
Virtual watch party extensions and apps turn an otherwise solitary pastime — viewing TV shows and movies — into a fun, engaging social event. Not only are they a great source of real human engagement, they’ve become one of the hottest and safest ways to spend quality time with friends and family.
Here’s what you need to know to get the party started.
Just as you would when hosting an old-fashioned, face-to-to face party at your home, start by choosing a theme and build your guest list around it. Is there a new rom-com on your radar? Invite people who dig this genre, too. Live sporting events and action flicks might appeal to a completely different set of friends. Music lovers in your social circle might enjoy watching a concert together, while parents of young children will gather for a family-friendly film. Think beyond movies, too. Viewing a mini-series or TV sitcom can become a weekly event, and watching awards shows with others will certainly stir up some lively commentary.
As the host, it’s up to you to choose the viewing platform. Consider your audience when you do this. You might be comfortable installing a third-party extension to your Netflix account. Grandma? Maybe not. At any rate, your watch party guests may have a little pre-party preparation to do; at a minimum, they’ll all need to subscribe to the streaming service that you select.
You’ll also want to consider just how interactive you want your party to be. For example, the Netflix Party and Hulu Watch Party apps let you and your guests text each other as you watch, while Scener offers a live video chat feature and TwoSeven supports both audio and video chat for sharing reactions in real time, as does the Metastream app, which allows you to watch videos on a wide range of platforms, including Netflix, YouTube™ and Hulu, as well as niche platforms Twitch and Crunchyroll. When you’ve settled on a show or movie as well as a platform and viewing time and day, send your invitations. They’ll arrive in your guests’ email inbox with all the particulars.
If you and your guests engage in audible conversations during the watch party, know that, depending on the size of your gathering, things could get chaotic. For this reason, it may be wise as the party host to ask guests to save their remarks until the show or movie has ended, or until it’s paused for an intermission. (Some extensions let you handle this through a virtual remote, which often provides other controls as well.) You might also want to decide early on to mute everyone’s computer microphones during the viewing and leave the chatter until the show ends.
The whole point of a virtual watch party is being able to immerse yourself in the on-screen action while also engaging with your attendees. Conversations flow smoothly and movies sound better when you can clearly hear the audio, so make sure your computer is up to the task. Solid, reliable, internet connectivity is critical to both audio and video clarity. Adding a sound bar like the Yamaha SR-C20A or high-quality speakers (go for a surround setup if possible) can make a world of difference too.
Another option that’s helpful if your viewing environment suffers from a lot of background noise is donning a pair of headphones. This will allow you to block out ambient sound in the room. Consider opting for a wireless design like the Yamaha YH-E700A so you can stay connected to the conversation even if you need to run into the kitchen to grab a snack.
A brief show-and-tell before the movie or show begins is always good for setting a tone for the event and prompting lively conversation (as moderator, be sure to give all your virtual guests a chance to chime in). Asking guests to wear costumes is another way to get the conversation started. Their attire can follow the theme of the video, emulate a favorite character of a sitcom … really, anything at all. These kinds of extra touches just may be what it takes to make your virtual watch party a standout event that friends and family will talk about long after the final credits roll.
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