How Virtual Watch Party Platform “Scener” Went Viral Amid Pandemic
Zig Ziglar once said, “success occurs when opportunity meets preparation,” and the statement couldn’t be truer for Scener.
The Seattle-based start-up was a little ahead of its time when in 2018, they decided to create a platform where viewers could virtually group watch their favorite content from their favorite streaming services. At the time, the idea seemed novel, even far-fetched, as people simply enjoyed binge-watching by themselves or they’d host parties should they want their friends to join.
Two years and a history-making pandemic later, Scener is now one of the top virtual watch party platforms bringing people together as staying at home and virtual watch parties are becoming a way of life.
A global pandemic wasn’t on the company’s COO Joe Braidwood and his co-founder, Daniel Strickland’s (CEO), mind when they created Scener, but they thought a time would come when people would need such a platform. “We saw two big trends that we thought would converge: on the one hand, we saw the streaming wars and understood that streaming would be a thing that would only keep growing,” Braidwood told The Streamable.
At the time, Netflix was expanding their service and doubling down on originals, while Amazon Prime Video wasn’t too far behind and murmurs of Disney Plus had begun circulating. Binge-watching was at its peak and streaming was slowly becoming the preferred mode of watching. The team at Scener observed the vast growth of streaming and realized how impersonal these platforms would inevitably become.
“We saw that trend and thought it’s gonna become increasingly difficult to know what to watch tonight, and it’s gonna become more important to have a way to watch in a collaborative social environment,” Braidwood stated.
The second trend they homed in on was around social media and video. “We knew that as broadband became more prevalent and faster internet connections and devices were more and more a part of every one’s consumption of media, that having a way to create a sort of ‘FaceTime’ for Netflix would be really interesting to folks,” Braidwood explained. “We were looking at Twitch and Fortnite and Tik Tok and thinking, ‘there’s got to be something social that injects itself into TV viewing because it’s such a passive, sometimes very lonely experience.’”
How Streaming with Scener Works
Scener is a Google Chrome extension that enables users to host private or public watch parties. In order to host, all you have to do is create a profile and if you are hosting a private party, you can add up to 10 people to the group. The platform also has video chat capabilities so you can see everyone’s reactions as they watch in real time. For those who still have busy schedules and can’t hop on a watch party at the whim, Scener also allows you to schedule a watch party ahead of time. A subscription is required for each participant on premium services.
The service supports over 10 of the major streaming services including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, Hulu, and Funimation, just to name a few. Scener has also snagged several festival partnerships and served as the go-to destination for hosting virtual screening programs for popular film and culture festivals, such as Alamo’s Fantastic Fest and Comic-Con events.
Since launching, the company has seen a fair amount of growth and has also managed to garner support from several investors, to further expand their capabilities. In fact, Scener announced today that they have garnered $2.1 million in seed funding led by Seattle-based SeaChange with participation from Glaser Investments, Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH Syndicate, RiffTrax and angel investors including RiffTrax CEO David G. Martin and technology executive Sriram Krishnan.
Prior to the mandated lockdowns, Scener had a beta version of the platform on the market, and that version saw about 15,000 minutes of people watching together per day. Since the stay-at-home orders were enforced in March, Scener has seen an a huge surge in people using their platform, now averaging 14 million minutes of people co-watching per week (~2 million per day) with approximately 500,000 weekly active installs.
With the pandemic still looming, group watching has now become a trend.
But, Now Everyone Wants Their Own Co-Viewing Platform
In March, a Google extension called Netflix Party also saw massive growth, enabling groups of friends to virtually get together and watch their favorite movies or Netflix shows. More recently, services like Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and just yesterday Disney+ launched a new co-watching feature called “GroupWatch” with subscribers.
Though group watching features and plug-ins are becoming more and more ubiquitous, Scener is not worried about potential competition because their platform goes beyond just streaming services. While Scener allows for small intimate groups of just friends and family to watch their shows together, they’ve also created the platform in a way that enables users to create larger communities around movies and their partnerships with Alama and Comic-Con are evidence of that.
“We have built the system to be able to have up to a million people watching the same virtual theater together,” Braidwood stated. “That’s very different from some of the other watch together services. Those are usually designed for smaller groups of five or six friends to get together and watch something on a Friday night. We have no hard cap. We see ourselves as trying to create a horizontal Twitch-like experience for people that are obsessed with film and TV.”
During the month of October, Scener is debuting its watch party series, “Stream & Scream,” which will bring a genre-obsessed community together to celebrate the best of horror. The programming will feature a slate of watch parties including the premiere of “The Haunting of Bly Manor” with an unannounced, surprise cast member; “Anna and the Apocalypse” with Actress Sarah Swire; “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” with Actor Gabriel Rush, and a LIVE lockdown horror movie as part of this year’s Raindance Festival, “In The Shadows It Waits” by writer-director Michael Beets.
With no real way of knowing when the world is going back to normal, for Braidwood and the team at Scener, the pandemic expedited growth of their platform which may have taken longer otherwise.
“When we started out in 2018, everyone said social TV has been tried and failed. It took a pandemic to really create a momentum here, but we think that’s a one way door,” he stated. “We don’t think we’ll be going back to normal. This is going to continue to be a concept that people will love. It’s true that there is a trend now and we are in the middle of that trend…but it proves that the assumptions we had were right. People do crave these kinds of experiences.”