Here’s what I thought I might do during the indefinite COVID-19 shutdown:

  • Learn a language
  • Redecorate
  • Keep a detailed log of this historical event for posterity

Here’s what I have actually done so far:

  • Binged Peep Show
  • Messaged all my co-workers the same bland messages
  • Glared out of my window at my neighbours John and Janet who are using their new spare time to conduct noisy tasks each day at 9am

Luckily, Netflix has stepped up and provided us with a new service to get us through these strange times and maintain some sense of normality. Their new extension, ‘Netflix Party’, allows you group-watch films and TV series with your pals whilst maintaining the appropriate social distance.
So, instead of bombarding the group chat with cabin-fever memes, I rallied the troops (in this case, Emily Glynn and Bea Garcia) to test out the pros and cons of this service:
It’s really easy to download and to set up. Once downloaded from Google Store, go into Netflix and choose the series/film you want to watch. Then, you click the “NP” button on your taskbar, ‘Start the party’ and it generates a URL you can send to the group chat.
Note: you need to set up your name once in the chat. I thought it would have been linked to my account, but in retrospect, maybe this is something Netflix did intentionally so even you freeloaders – not just the account holder – can enjoy the feature. How nice.
Netflix Party also drops off your guests at the exact minute you’re at. As someone who has tried to coordinate a dual-watch session with friends in the past, this is an absolute Godsend. There’s no: “Okay, is everyone ready?” or “I’m on 00:03.”…“but I’m on 0:10.” nor any instances “Oh, I’m already half an hour in.” The play/pause is linked, so everyone is always in the same place. 
The downside to this (but not enough to be an official con) is that if you need the loo or more snacks and you don’t want to miss anything, you need to formally announce to the group what you’re up to. If you’re not FOMO-prone it’s quite nice actually – I disappeared for 10 minutes to get some more wine and make some toast and nobody noticed I was missing.
Yet while the play/pause is linked, you still have autonomous control over subtitles which will be handy if you’re watching with someone who for whatever reason, hates subtitles. My party all use them and didn’t realise this feature existed until, in classic British fashion, we all apologised for the gross inconvenience of imposing words on other people, and had a go at flicking them on and off for testing purposes.
The other two people in my group reported freezing at different points, or the video would play but the message bar would lock them out. We had to stop the film to figure it out, with one of us having to leave the party and re-enter. However, it didn’t affect the video playback.
We also didn’t like how, once it’s all over, you have to actively terminate the chat. It seemed very cold, like kicking someone out of pre-drinks. “What is the etiquette?” My friend asked. What indeed?
Also, there are no emojis at all. My friend insists this is absolutely unforgivable.
The biggest con, however, is that if you want to change series or carry the session on with another film, you have to create a new session each time. Even more annoyingly, this applies to new episodes of the same series e.g. if Netflix auto-plays to the next episode, it will kick everyone out of the session and you have to set up a new party and invite everyone again which ultimately defeats the purpose of the extension.
Overall, the group consensus was 3 out of 5 stars. Aside from the freezing, the average rating is because the extension is quite literally average. Until the issue with the session conclusion is rectified, it’s only really worth starting a party for a film.
It’s still better than coordinating a watch party on different streams, but it’s nothing so life-altering that we will tell our grandchildren about it in 60 years, during those inevitable  Sunday lunch-spoiling recounts of the Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020.
Image: Pixabay
Beth Whiteman is a screen contributor at Forge Press.
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