Social Commerce

Quaranstreaming And The Future Of Social Commerce

A good slogan is hard to write, as it needs to be brief, memorable (for good reason) and continuously evocative no matter how often it is used. That is why there are so few additions to the list of all-time classics like “Just Do It,” “Think Different” and “I’m Lovin’ It” — odds are you just thought of Nike, Apple and McDonald’s for a split second upon reading those slogans, whether or not you’ve personally experienced their respective shoes, electronics or Big Macs. And for a while there it looked like Netflix had managed to crack the code and enter the pantheon with three simple words.

Netflix and chill.

A little bit of double entendre, a little bit of ironic commentary on modern dating and a healthy dash of solidly evocative description of the best and highest use of the service is a lot to pack into three words, but successful execution on Netflix’s part managed to make it a hit such that it is possible to play slogan call-and-response — say Netflix out loud in public and someone is almost sure to toss back, “and chill.”

But like global supply chains, the travel industry, the stock market and the concept of going out, the outbreak of COVID-19 worldwide has messed up that once perfectly good slogan. Lots of people are Netflixing — but the “and chill” part as it applies to the social/romantic side of Netflix? Not so much. In fact, various replacement slogans have begun surfacing embedded in memes and T-shirts floating around the web — “Netflix And Don’t Touch Me” and “Netflix and Quaranstream” being our personal favorites.

Admittedly, they don’t quite have the rhetorical flourish or generally upbeat nature of the original, but perhaps they point to how media streams are evolving now — and will continue to evolve going forward as the coronavirus pandemic changes life as we knew it. Because quaranstreaming is in fact a more generally social animal than its predecessor as consumers in the U.S. and around the world are searching for means to both socialize and fill their time in a world where everything is closed and any human being that doesn’t live in one’s household needs to stay a safe six feet away.

But just as work has gone online — via Zoom meetings, Skype chats and Google Hangouts — so too has social time. Consumers are still going to the movies together — they’re just doing it while staying at home. Among the big winners in the sudden shift to togetherness while home alone is Netflix, and its Netflix Party in specific.

Netflix Party is a Google Chrome browser extension that has been around since 2015 that allows multiple Netflix users to sync and watch movies on the platform together, “as a way to hang out and have fun with friends,” according to  Stephan Boyer, who first developed the app in 2015.

He told Vox in an email that while the extension had some penetrations with niche groups before now — primarily college students in long-distance relationships and military members — the community has exploded as word of mouth has gotten around among the bored and housebound.

“Hundreds of thousands of people have installed Netflix Party since the beginning of the year. It now has over a million users,” Boyer noted, saying the attitude at the firm these days is “all hands on deck.”

That’s an experience also being had by the team at Discord — an chat app launched in 2015 that has long been beloved among online gamers because unlike other similar chat apps which also allow users to create semi-private, invite-only servers, Discord’s voice chat feature is always active  and it makes it easy to stream video content from one user to everyone in their group, and watch a movie if one of them is streaming it. And though gamers were the original Discord fans, the service has since taken off among online gaming communities and, in since the start of 2020, with what seems a bit like the entire world as people have begun downloading and using the app en masse. Perhaps a bit too much, in fact, as longtime users have complained of intermittent outages due to the large surge of new users.

Last week, the company responded to the demand by increasing its overall server capacity and, in a nearly exact reversal of what is happening in the real world regarding social gatherings, temporarily increasing the cap on the number of people who could join a live screen-sharing channel from 10 to 50.

Digital Gatherings

And while Netflix Party and Discord stand out because their use has exploded precipitously, they are but a small subset of the recent explosion in digital groups — reports abound of cocktail parties hosted on Google Hangouts, business video conferencing platform Zoom being radically repurposed for social gatherings among the millions who have downloaded it over the last two weeks and Facebook Live becoming increasingly full of music events, game nights and other social events people can attend remotely. Digital social gathering app Houseparty has gone from being a relatively unknown social media app to a household name nearly overnight — largely driven by the legions of consumers using it to virtually gather for aerobics classes, marathon gaming sessions and porch-based beer drinking.

And as group socialization is moving online and quarenstreaming is becoming a more popular, diverse and group-oriented activity, commerce is already finding ways to follow along with it. Eventbrite, a discovery platform that until very recently was nearly entirely focused on offline events, has recently added a new landing page for upcoming virtual events prompted by the surge in live streamed classes and webinars.

“While the bulk of events on Eventbrite have historically been in-person events like music shows and speed dating, we’re now seeing a rise in online events being offered on our platform in response to increased efforts to ‘flatten the curve,’” Eventbrite spokesperson Sara Putnam told Vox in an email.

Bar owners are notably using chat sites to host “virtual happy hours” for members, an opportunity not to sell alcohol, which members have to supply at home, but to offer tips on how to mix one’s own drinks and offer a reminder that gift cards and other merchandise are still available for sale, even when the local watering hole is closed.

And, even before COVID-19 hijacked the economy and most consumer behavior along with it, the trend toward shoppable streaming was already on the rise and accelerating. Now that streams are increasingly become social hangout spots, an interesting question arises: Has social commerce finally found an igniting event in the U.S.? The idea that consumers who gather on social media sites would eventually use them as central commerce hubs has long been popular — but in the U.S. the market has never quite found big success. Consumers tend to shop in some places — Amazon, eBay etc. — and mingle in others. Progress has been made, particularly by Instagram influencers looking to monetize their large followings, but mass market success has remained elusive.

But times have changed, radically and quickly, and consumer behavior has shifted. Socialization has gotten a digital assist, and it seems at least possible that social commerce configured for those new socialization patterns might just have an unusually good foothold. As PingPong Head of Global Partnerships Ning Ye told PYMNTS in a recent conversation, China has succeeded in social commerce where the U.S. has stalled — because socializing and commerce being dual parts of the digital experience has been baked in since day one. In the U.S., they evolved separately.

But now, it seems, circumstances may just be that their evolution going forward will be conjoined — and shopping digitally for U.S. consumers could be on the verge of evolving from a mostly solitary experience to a more social one. It is, of course, too early to make certain predictions in uncertain times, but it is an area worth watching going forward.

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