Hanging out in the age of social distancing can be challenging but not impossible with Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.

The subscription-based streaming services are among the most popular paid video-on-demand services to watch thousands of TV shows and movies without an antenna or paying for cable.

Netflix may have the best name recognition among them. But at about $6 a month, basic Hulu is one of the best deals in streaming, with plenty of current and past TV shows and movies.

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More Americans than ever are cutting the cable TV cord in favor of streaming. The coronavirus pandemic has only caused more of us to stay at, or work from, home. And without regular live sports, more of us are looking for cost-friendly entertainment alternatives during a recession.

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Movie theaters now are competing directly with streaming services, especially as many Americans seem to remain skittish about watching a movie on the big screen in possibly close quarters with strangers who may unwittingly have the coronavirus.

RELATED: Lakes 12 Theatre in Baxter offers private movie screenings

AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros. studio will debut all of its 2021 films in theaters and on the HBO Max streaming service on the same day, the company announced in December, which was an unprecedented operational shift that hammered struggling cinema operators.

Paramount+ is one of the latest entries into the streaming services, replacing CBS All Access. Screenshot
Paramount+ is one of the latest entries into the streaming services, replacing CBS All Access. Screenshot

And now Paramount Plus, a new streaming service that replaced CBS All Access, “will stream some new movies from Paramount Pictures 35 to 45 days after they premiere in theaters, while other Paramount flicks will hit the online service much later,” according to CNET.com.

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But can those measures ever replace the communal aspect of people watching something together — recoiling in fright during a scary movie on TV, laughing out loud while watching a comedy on the big screen or shedding tears as a sad scene plays on the silver screen?

Hulu’s recently announced “Watch Party” aims to provide a close approximation of people’s pre-pandemic watching habits by offering a method in which subscribers can watch simultaneously the same TV show or movie from different places and comment on it together.

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A Hulu subscription is needed to host or join a Watch Party. Netflix earlier introduced something similar. Netflix Party is a Google Chrome web browser extension for watching Netflix remotely with friends who are also subscribers of that particular streaming content service.

Netflix Party synchronizes video playback and adds group chat, so viewers can simulate the feel of going to a movie together at movie theaters like the Mann Lakes 12 in Baxter, which temporarily closed a couple of times during the pandemic but is now playing new releases.

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Hulu’s Watch Party was announced in December just in time for the holiday season like Christmas or New Year’s Eve — traditionally prime social gatherings that posed a risk for spreading the coronavirus that could result in more cases of COVID-19.

But in the first quarter of this year, The Walt Disney Co. reported Hulu had 39.4 million paid subscribers, up from 30.4 million in the corresponding quarter of the previous fiscal year.

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Hulu’s Watch Party synchronizes video playback for all participants and adds a group chat to the video being watched. A maximum of eight may join a single Watch Party session. Those under 18 years old will not be able to start or participate in a Watch Party.

Watch Party is available to Hulu subscribers on Hulu.com using a supported web browser like Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge.

To begin a Watch Party, navigate to the “Details” page of the desired TV show or movie and look for the “Watch Party” icon. Select the icon on the page, and then click “Start the Party.” Finally, choose the chain icon to copy the link to send to others.

To join a Watch Party, use the invitation link sent from the Hulu Watch Party host. Those invited to join a Watch Party should be at least 18 years old to use the web-based feature, according to Hulu officials.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.