The feature has a dual purpose that fits well with the social network’s revamped goals: to focus on video and bring communities closer together. Any video posted publicly to Facebook can be viewed in Watch Party, even if it’s no longer live.
“With everyone watching, commenting and reacting to the same moments together, it creates a shared viewing experience for video that helps build the kind of community and engagement we’ve seen with Live,” Fidji Simo, vice president of product at Facebook, wrote in a blog post. “The Watch Party viewing experience is special because of the people you are watching with.”
For now, only members of groups can use Watch Party, but Simo says the company hopes to expand the feature to a wider audience.
A Watch Party is created by group administrators who select and post whichever videos they want to share with their members. When the party starts, group members will see a Watch Party box in Groups and a queue showing the videos scheduled to broadcast next.
Oddly, there’s no way for a group admin to schedule a watch party in the future. As the clips play, anyone who is watching can post comments or reactions, which appear in a sidebar on desktop or on top of the clip on mobile, like on Facebook Live. People can also tap emoji to quickly react to whatever is going on.
Facebook hopes the new feature will give people a new reason to interact with videos.
“When done well, video brings us closer together,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said, according to TechCrunch. “We’ve found that communities formed around video like TV shows or sports create a greater sense of belonging than many other kinds of communities… But too often right now, watching video is just a passive consumption experience.”
Watch Party comes shortly after Facebook announced it would overhaul the News Feed to show more posts from friends and family but fewer news articles or brand posts. The company hopes the changes will put more emphasis on “meaningful social interactions.”
Facebook just started testing the feature with a “handful of groups” and did not say when it would be released.