How to watch Netflix with friends while staying socially distant

  • A screen capture of Netflix running on a laptop with the Netflix Party extension running.

    A screen capture of Netflix running on a laptop with the Netflix Party extension running. Screen capture

 
 
Updated 3/26/2020 4:00 PM

We're all stuck inside and looking for more ways to connect with our friends and loved ones. Communal viewing, or watching a video with a bunch of other people over our phones and computers, is rapidly becoming a norm.

But what's the best way to do it? In researching this column, I found a phone app, which shall remain nameless, that seemed like the coolest communal viewing experience ever. It supported all the major streaming services and even had its own library of karaoke tracks. And using it was very easy!

 

But then I realized that it asked me to sign in with an existing social media account instead of creating a new login, and that it also asked for my Netflix login information -- it didn't redirect me to Netflix to sign in separately, it asked for it right there within the app.

So those are some big red flags, and I ditched that app before any more of my data was mined. Beware any app that asks for your information that way.

So what do I recommend?

Netflix Party

This app is actually an extension of a web browser -- Google Chrome, to be exact -- and you can only use it on your computer, not your phone or tablet. It allows you and a group of friends and family to all watch the same video on Netflix, perfectly synced, and chat the whole time. (And since it's on your computer, you can presumably keep texting or scrolling Twitter on your phone, and keep the news on in the background on your TV.)

Here's the catch: All invited party members need to be using the Chrome browser to make Netflix Party work. Also, invitees need to have Netflix accounts (or take advantage of the free 30-day trial period offered when you accept the invitation).

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So here are step-by-step instructions for starting your own Netflix Party. For this exercise, let's assume you are the one starting the party and sending the invites.

A screen capture of Netflix running on a laptop with the Netflix Party extension running.
A screen capture of Netflix running on a laptop with the Netflix Party extension running. - Screen capture

1. Download Google Chrome.

There's a good chance this web browser is already on your computer. If not, go to google.com/chrome in one of the web browsers already on your computer -- Safari, Edge, Firefox, what have you -- and follow the prompts. It's free.

2. Install Netflix Party.

In your Chrome address bar, type in netflixparty.com and follow the prompts. This also is free. When this is done, you should see an "NP" icon next to the address bar on the right side.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

3. Sign into Netflix.

Remember, you can only do this if you're watching Netflix on your desktop or laptop computer! So go to netflix.com and sign in with your email address and password.

4. Choose your video.

Do this first, before inviting anyone to your watch party. So search for the show or movie you want to watch. For my test, I chose "Back to the Future Part III." (Whoa, this is heavy!)

5. When the video starts, pause it!

Technically, you don't have to do this right away, because you can restart it and skip around at will with the progress bar along the bottom of the video, but it's probably a good idea.

6. Click that "NP" next to the address bar.

This will give you a window reminding you that anyone you invite will also need to click "NP" on their browsers once they log on, followed by a blue button labeled "Start the party."

7. Share the link.

Now a long hyperlink will be created. Click "Copy URL" and send it to your party guests, either by email, tweet or Facebook message. (Paste it in with a CTRL-V.) When you've done that, click anywhere on the video screen to get that window to disappear.

8. Wait for your guests to arrive and enjoy!

A chat window on the right side of the video will show you when guests arrive, and everyone can type comments in real time as the video plays. Everyone will get a cute little avatar, too. (Mine weirdly looked like Vanellope Von Schweetz from "Wreck-It Ralph.") If you want to send the link to more people after your party has already begun, click the little chain-link icon you'll see near the top of your screen and CTRL-V that hyperlink into another email, tweet, etc.

Seems like a lot of work, eh? Only the first time. But if it's too much of a hassle, remember that FaceTime or video calling works just fine; syncing up the videos on your own might be a bit of a challenge, though!

• Follow Sean on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.

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