Facebook is moving into the videoconferencing market, offering another option for locked-down consumers who have sparked a surge in demand for video chats.
Facebook’s new Messenger Rooms tool is similar to Zoom and Houseparty, which have seen usage take off since the coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay at home.
Elements of Rooms had been slated for release in the third and fourth quarters of this year, but Facebook accelerated its development after observing a spike in group calling during the lockdowns, Head of Messenger Stan Chudnovsky told Reuters.
“Our video calls doubled, and when we’re looking at the group calls usage, that went up even higher,” he said. “So we figured out a way to build those things faster.”
According to Facebook, there are now more than 700 million accounts participating in video calls on its WhatsApp and Messenger platforms every day.
“Microsoft Corp., Zoom Video Communications, Cisco Systems Inc. and Alphabet’s Google also have rolled out updates of their video meeting tools while reporting record growth since the lockdowns began,” Reuters noted.
Zoom is currently used by 49% of U.S. consumers who participated in online meetings, followed by Microsoft’s Skype (26%), Google Hangouts (19%), Microsoft Teams (12%), and Cisco Webex (9%), according to a J.D. Power survey.
Messenger Rooms will allow users to host videoconferences, with no time limit, for up to 50 people (whereas Messenger previously was limited to a maximum of eight users).
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company has prioritized security, learning from mistakes made by others in the videoconferencing space. “We’ve built this with security and privacy in mind from the beginning,” he said in a live stream on Facebook.
Zoom has been grappling with the problem of “Zoombombing,” when uninvited attendees break into and disrupt videoconferences.
Chudnovsky said Facebook is targeting the consumer market and is not currently making overtures to businesses, the main source of revenue for most other videoconferencing apps.
The company is also expanding group video calling within WhatsApp but is capping the number of participants there at eight people.