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Streaming services have become a disaggregated mess, making it hard to figure out if the movie or TV show you want to watch is on Netflix, HBO Max, or any one of a bunch of separate services. That’s why social viewing service Scener is launching its mobile app on iOS today.

The app is like a universal remote for your streaming services. You can use it to do universal search. That is, when you are looking for Star Trek films, it will tell you they’re on Paramount+ and, if you’re a subscriber, it will take you right into the movie you want to watch, said David Baron, the former Hulu exec who became CEO of Scener in December. It’s all in the name of simplifying the complicated world of streaming, he said in an interview with VentureBeat.

Baron showed me in a demo how it works. If you don’t subscribe, the universal search takes you into a subscription page. But if you do, it will make it easy to watch a movie. It lets you play the content instantly right on your iPhone, or it can direct to one of your screens that is connected to Roku TV (which is available on a lot of connected TVs now). While it only works as a remote with Roku now, it will work with other platforms in the future.

David Baron is CEO of Scener.

You can fire up the Roku service on the connected screen and start watching the show there. You can still use your smartphone as a remote control on that connected screen. You can fast forward it, rewind, pause, change the volume, or end the show and pop out to a menu. Baron showed it to me with a Samsung TV with a Roku stream bar plugged into it. And he showed it with a Mac laptop plugged into a big monitor. When you choose a show, you can see which episode you want to watch and move right into it.

“We have deep linking and syncing of video in social media events, all from your mobile phone, with no need for separate remote control,” Baron said.

Social viewing

You can host a watch party with friends on Scener.

Baron said that you can also use it for social viewing, which is Scener’s specialty via its app on the Google Chrome browser. Scener lets you watch a movie with a friend while you’re separated, letting you join watch parties with remote friends via services like HBO Max, HBO Go, and Netflix. Demand for the watch parties skyrocketed in the pandemic.

“We’re trying to make consumers’ lives easier when it comes to their streaming media space,” Baron said. “This is a huge step in that direction. There’s plenty more to do to follow this. But this is a pretty cool next step.”

Scener was cofounded by Joe Braidwood. It launched in 2018 and was incubated by media streaming pioneer RealNetworks. The company spun out in 2019 and has been adding features ever since. Last year it enabled huge viewing parties for movie events like the debut of Zack Snyder’s new cut of Justice League.

With the mobile app, social viewing gets easier. For instance, Baron showed how Scener will let two different parties watch the same show through the app. It synchronizes the start of the show so that both parties watch the same part of the movie simultaneously. If you fast forward or rewind, it does the same for both parties. You can chat with each other while it’s happening. This is what Baron calls a “natively social” experience.

You don’t need to cast the movie via a cable from your iPhone to the TV. Scener is hardware agnostic, and it has more TV device support coming soon. This means that you won’t need to mess around with multiple remote controls to get a movie going, Baron said. You can engage in video, text, or audio chat on your iPhone while the app syncs the shared experience on the two TVs in two different places.

Scener’s mobile app turns your iPhone into a remote control.

“Imagine that this laptop and this phone are in two different homes. All of this is happening in sync. I can even fast forward. And you can see it’s now asking to sync. If you look, it is actually finding the sync point. And syncing. Nobody’s done that before,” Baron said. “So we’re really, really excited by this.”

Push notifications alert you when to join the watch party and host.

“Scener has transformed mobile devices into the media controller nobody has been able to build–knowing what my friends are watching on TV is something I’ve always wanted,” said Marc Geiger, founder of SaveLive, former Global head of WME and Scener investor and advisor, in a statement. “In music, it has been a critical tool for new music discovery. For TV, this is a natural next step for Scener and streaming innovation at large.”

Scener’s mobile app debut builds on an explosive period of growth for the company. Scener has also seen significant user growth, averaging over five million minutes a day of shared viewing over the past quarter and hosting over 700,000 social viewing events each month. From that data, Baron said Scener can show what is trending across all of the different streaming services, showing you what’s hot to watch.

Adoption from Hollywood luminaries and creators, such as Zack Snyder, the cast and creators of HBO Max’s DMZ and Oscars TikTok star Julian Green (a.k.a Straw Hat Goofy), and major media entities, including HBO Max, Comic-Con@Home and SXSW, underscores the demand for simplified, social streaming, Baron said.

Now, fans can choose how they join the party: with a cinephile-level viewing experience via TV and mobile or with the convenience of a simple browser extension on a laptop or desktop.

Scener lets you share a movie with your friends.

“Having spent three decades building new lines of business from within the biggest media companies, I’ve experienced first-hand how social viewing has transformed the streaming landscape for viewers, platforms and studios alike–social content discovery will be the next seismic shift,” said Baron.

The app can also show what big watch parties and social events are coming up. Baron said Scener did this engineering for the app on its own, without having to ask permission from the services. But this app will help it broker new conversations with a variety of companies, said Baron, a 30-year veteran who had a 14-year run as a Hulu exec and ended as vice president, content partnerships at Hulu.

“There are things that we can do with the streaming companies and I look forward to working with them,” Baron said. “I think we can be their best friend. I think we can help them build community around content. I think we can help them build engagement around content, all those things that the streamers need, and I think we can help with content discovery too.”

Baron hopes this will help bring the silos together and benefit the consumer. An Android app is likely in the works.

Scener has offices in Seattle and Los Angeles.

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