Media software startup and streamer Plex is expanding its service to become more of a social network, not just a way to organize your home media or stream free content. Today, the app maker is launching a new feature, “Discover Together,” that allows users to create profiles and find and follow friends in order to discover new shows or movies to watch. The feature was first introduced into beta testing last summer, but has been updated and expanded as it rolls out today to Plex’s wider user base.
The idea, the company explained, was to lay the groundwork for Plex to become more than just a streaming hub — it wanted to become a streaming community as well. With Discover Together, users can add their friends to see which movies and shows they’re watching, bookmarking for later, and how they’re rating the content they viewed.
Over time, Plex aims to leverage these personal recommendations to also power its own suggestions, and even allow streamers to engage in conversations around their favorite content. That could put the company on the path to compete with other online TV or movie communities, like Letterboxd for movie lovers or TV Time, which combines a TV show and movie tracker with an active discussions community.
Plex’s Discover feature, accessed from the app’s main navigation, has four distinct tabs. The first, Discover, will show you which content is trending across Plex and your own streaming services, as configured in the app’s settings. It’s a broader way to see which content is popular across services, as well as popular trailers, and trending content by genre, among other things.
The Profile tab, meanwhile, is where users can establish their identity on this social networking side of Plex, by uploading a profile photo, setting their location, adding a bio and link, and more. Here, friends can also view the user’s Watch History, watchlisted items and things they’ve rated. Users can also set privacy levels around their rating of content — so if you don’t want your friends to know about your embarrassing reality TV addiction, you can hide your activity from the network. These privacy settings are set for an entire type of content, like Watch events, Watch History, or Ratings, but it’s an all-or-nothing setting. Currently, if you want to hide any specific activity, you have to do so after the fact by removing it.
Users’ stats will remain private by default until the user goes through the onboarding process as the feature rolls out this week.
On each show and movie page, there will be a history that shows which friends have watched and rated it, to help you determine if you might like to watch, too. You can also see when you’ve shared content to your network, if anyone has commented on the movie or TV show with additional input — perhaps something like “excited to watch this,” or “this wasn’t as good as I hoped,” as they leave their two cents.
On the People tab, you can search for new friends by name, location or interest, allowing you to expand your social network with people you either know, are nearby or who like the same sort of content you do. From here, you can also look at a person’s friends list, if they share that, to see if you have people in common. You can also browse friend suggestions based on network and privacy settings.
The Activity tab, meanwhile, is like Plex’s version of the News Feed. Here you can track your friends’ activity on this social networking side of Pex, to see when they’ve watchlisted items, marked items as watched, or commented on a show or movie. (Comments can’t be viewed on the Plex apps for Apple TV or Roku at launch, but will be available soon). You can also mute friends from this feed if you find their viewing activity isn’t relevant to your interests.
This friend activity data will also help Plex to suggest which shows are trending with friends this week, as you engage with its app.
Having used the feature since its beta testing, I found that it’s a fairly easy-to-use experience, but had struggled with finding enough “Plex friends” to make it worthwhile to peruse the feed. The addition of the ability to search for users by name, location and interests will make a big impact on the feature’s usefulness, in terms of becoming a network that doesn’t rely on your real-world friends being on Plex.
“Really good discovery has to have a social component, and we believe it needs to be integrated directly into the streaming experience to be useful,” noted Keith Valory, Plex CEO, in an announcement. “Viewers are more likely to watch recommendations from people they know and trust, and to integrate that into the viewing experience is surprisingly something that has not been done before. At Plex, we are focused on bringing viewers the simplest, most efficient, and most enjoyable way to discover great new content they’ll love. Discover Together is a huge milestone for us in this quest, but it will only get better and better from here,” he added.
Alongside the launch, Plex is updating other parts of its software experience as well. For personal media users, for example, Plex will now allow users to report issues with a title, the wrong language or subtitles, and the owner of the server will get an email alerting them to the problem.
The launch follows a tougher quarter for Plex, whose free, ad-supported streaming service was impacted by the advertising slowdown, forcing it to lay off 20% of its staff. The company had started the year with 175 employees and revenues in the double-digit millions. Despite the slowdown, the company was still on track to see 30% growth in 2023, it forecast.
Discover Together arrives today on Plex’s website, its mobile app and its TV apps for streaming media players, including Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Android TV, Google TV, Roku, smart TVs (LG, Hisense, Samsung, Sony, Vizio), game consoles, tablets and more.