Netflix Party

Graphic by Ann Salman

Since the days of communal viewing parties at a friend’s house are on hiatus, Netflix Party has been one of the best substitutes for a television-obsessed world threatened by a pandemic that distances us. According to their website, Netflix Party is a Google Chrome extension that “synchronizes video playback and adds group chat to your favorite Netflix shows,” allowing as many as 50 people to watch the same show or movie at the same time.

Students across campus have been taking advantage of Netflix Party as a way to connect with friends and family from a distance. Erin Tennis, a second-year studying English with a concentration in creative writing, explained how she took advantage of the Chrome extension.

“I used it a lot over the summer because my friend and sister and I wanted to watch ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ together,’” Tennis said. “We watched the whole thing over Netflix Party.”

With Netflix’s addition of Academy Award nominees, such as “Lady Bird,” “Schindler’s List” and “Karate Kid” over the summer, as well as universally-loved shows such as “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” the streaming service has never been so appealing to housebound film and television junkies. With six of Netflix’s Top 10 most popular shows and movies this week being Netflix Originals, Netflix may be capitalizing off of the popularity of Netflix Party just as much as consumers are.

However, it seems obvious that Netflix Party may not be able to maintain its relevance post-pandemic. Once face-to-face social interaction is safe and acceptable, the reversion to viewing parties and similar events could cause users of Netflix Party to quietly discontinue their use of the extension. According to Grant Bollmer, associate professor of communication, however, it provides an experience that has been lost to many viewers who exclusively use streaming services.

“What [Netflix Party] is attempting to do is recreate the experience of ‘watching TV together’ and also doing that with people that you might know,” Bollmer said. “When, in fact, that sort of experience is something that you could argue Netflix has been foundational in eroding.”

With the rise of binge-watching across streaming platforms, Bollmer described the rise of “spoiler alert” culture that started to manifest when platforms such as Netflix and Hulu put seasons of shows out in their entirety, instead of releasing an episode weekly as cable television does. “Now that we can’t actually be anywhere with other people, that role of TV might be coming back,” Bollmer said.

That being said, the actual content that people are watching via Netflix Party is generally lighthearted. Think “Floor is Lava,” not “The Punisher.”

“You don’t want something that’s too emotionally taxing,” Bollmer said. “I imagine lots of people right now are extremely stressed out, not in the mood for something that’s incredibly deep.”

However, Netflix Party doesn’t come without its problems. Bollmer said there are huge technological difficulties to overcome on such a platform, such as lag, synchronous streaming and video delivery. 

“Surprisingly, that sort of synchronous viewing over the internet is difficult to do,” Bollmer said.

The creators of Netflix Party even admitted that there is a glitch in their website’s chat feature currently, which they hope to patch soon in an update.

Tennis also recalled a glitch during one session of Netflix Party.

“My friend and my sister and I were watching ‘Avatar,’ but my sister’s episode was 10 episodes later,” Tennis said. “We didn’t realize until the end.”

Glitches like these can be common, but it’s a small price to pay considering the cost of the extension itself: $0. According to their website, Netflix Party relies on Patreon donations from users to keep it running. 

Small bugs won’t stop viewers from watching, and Netflix itself seems to approve. According to the extension’s website, every person involved in a Netflix Party needs to have their own unique Netflix account. Because of this, Netflix is not losing any money and may actually be gaining subscribers.

“As long as [Netflix] still [has] their subscribers growing over time, they’re probably pretty happy with whatever’s going on,” Bollmer said.