- Facebook is encouraging friends and family to watch shows together online
- People viewing the videos can share emoji and comments via a second screen
- The goal is to make watching videos online a social experience, not a passive one
- Similar features are predicted to appear on platforms like Netflix and BBC iPlayer
- The trend threatens to put an end to the traditional family television gathering
Families could soon gather together to spend a night-in watching television in separate rooms from anywhere in the world, following a recent trend in 'social viewing' features that brings the communal viewing experience to virtual reality.
Facebook is one of the leading platforms in this field, thanks to its Watch Party feature, which allows friends in different locations to watch shows together while sharing emoji and written comments from their smartphone or computer.
According to the company, the goal is to make watching videos online a social experience, rather than a passive one.
Experts believe this will force rival platforms, like Netflix and BBC iPlayer, to create similar offerings for their customers, which could push traditional TV gatherings out of the living room for good.
Streaming giants are hoping to tap into the habits of the almost three in four Britons who already juggle an extra screen while watching television.
A new wave of 'social viewing' is turning television into a virtual party. Platforms like Facebook's Watch Party (pictured) are encouraging friends in different locations to jointly watch shows while sharing emoji and comments using their smartphone
Watch Party, which the social network started to test in January, allows Facebook group owners to invite their members to watch videos together.
Emojis and comments left by members will roll over the clips, which can be streamed live, or pre-recorded and shared on Facebook.
Facebook groups with early access to the feature include the Dogspotting Society, whose members watch 'heart-warming' clips of canines together, Facebook said.
If these initial 'small tests' prove successful, the social feature will be expanded to more users, according to Facebook's head of video Fidji Simo.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last year 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.'
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last year 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' (file photo)
Facebook and other technology firms are jumping on a growing trend which sees television viewers use smartphone apps, like Twitter or WhatsApp, to discuss what they are watching in real-time.
Experts said companies are keen for viewers to talk on their own platforms, where they can more easily track their behaviour and mine their interactions for additional data for targeted advertising, rather than third-party apps or rival websites.
Technology adviser Paul Armstrong, of Here/Forth, told the Times: 'Previous studies have shown more public responses such as tweeting about a TV show, or posting comments on YouTube videos.'
The importance of this data will likely see other internet streaming giants adopt similar features to Watch Party, Armstrong added.
'The future may well see Netflix and other content platforms bring on more social features as it gives them access to this behavioural data and further information on programmes,' he said.
'Netflix to date hasn't adopted social viewing but will be keeping an eye on this area.'