Collective viewing experiences during COVID-19 social distancing

Dr Lisa Lin, a media expert and documentary producer at Kent's School of Arts, comments on the ways that people can still enjoy watching films, TV and other content virtually together, whilst being in self-isolation or social distancing due to COVID-19. She said:

‘Netflix has been the leading streaming service providing tailored media content to online users based on its sophisticated recommendation systems and algorithmic aesthetics. Interestingly, Netflix has sought this opportunity to engage isolated users through its new service Netflix Party where friends can interact via real-time messages during the viewing experience. This is, however, not a new phenomenon.

‘In my previous research project on Tencent Video, the leading online streaming service provider in China, danmu (on-screen comments) has enabled users to interact with each other through comments on top of the screen simultaneously (agree, disagree, criticism or volunteering subtitle foreign content) with a high degree of real-time online interactions and grassroots participation. This real-time interaction on Tencent Video engenders a collective viewing experience among online users in the atomised society which has been intensified during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Zoom has become another way for friends to watch movies and television shows together during the outbreak. Known as the popular tool for virtual conferences, Zoom has adapted into a platform for collective viewing experiences. When one user initiates a video call from his or her computer screen with video streaming, the other users who joined the ‘movie webinar’ can watch any media content together and interact via real-time messages.

‘There has been a slowdown or even shut down in media production in affected countries during the outbreak whilst many events have been moved online. For example, many music companies and singers have started virtual gigs and living streaming concerts rather than face-to-face ones. So, we may see more of this content enjoyed virtually for the foreseeable future.’

Dr Lisa Lin is a media scholar, documentary producer and Lecturer at the University of Kent, who is interested in exploring the correlations between technology and creativity. Before joining Kent, she worked as a documentary producer unveiling social issues and human stories among under-represented communities in the UK, Singapore and China. She recently produced a short documentary for Channel 4 on Wuhan’s frontline medics and their response to COVID-19, viewable here: www.channel4.com/news/coronavirus-meet-wuhans-frontline-medics-responding-to-the-outbreak

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