New free service could threaten existing mainstream platforms such as Zoom and Webex
Facebook is making another attempt at the videoconferencing market with the launch of Messenger Rooms, a free service that supports up to 50 users per session. The new offering is aimed at consumers, and that could both benefit and threaten established commercial video communications providers.
The Lowdown: Messenger Rooms is a direct response to the increase in demand for communication services during the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing mitigation measures. Facebook says more than 700 million Messenger and WhatsApp accounts conduct video chats daily. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the world will live with social distancing for the foreseeable future, making videoconferencing services essential for human interaction.
The Details: The service, rolling out around the world this week, is mostly aimed at consumers for personal use to stay connected with friends and families. Facebook envisions that Messenger Rooms will be used for celebrations, club gatherings, events, and dating. The service includes features such as gated entry, the ability to kick out unwanted participants, policy violation and abuse reporting, and the ability to block people from participating. Facebook says the calls are encrypted end-to-end, safeguarding against sniffing and eavesdropping.
The Impact: The entry of Facebook into group videoconferencing services could both help and hinder the existing cadre of providers. Facebook’s service is clearly targeting consumers, but the fact that it’s free will make it palatable to cash-strapped small businesses and rogue enterprise users. Analysts believe Facebook, which has more than 2.5 billion users worldwide, could cut into the growth of established video providers such as Zoom, Microsoft’s Skype, and Google, which have flourished since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Conversely, Messenger Rooms does have the potential to relieve utilization burdens on existing commercial videoconferencing platforms, which are straining to keep up with demand from businesses and individuals.
Background: Messenger Rooms is not Facebook’s first attempt at group videoconferencing. Facebook also has Facebook for Workplaces, which is akin to Microsoft Teams and Slack and includes group videoconferencing. Facebook for Workplaces has free and paid versions. Facebook’s Portal device and WhatsApp application also support video calls, and the company said those platforms will get the Messenger Rooms service too.
Videoconferencing is in huge demand. Zoom, the popular commercial videoconferencing service, saw accounts grow 300% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Microsoft says Teams accounts and utilization is up more than 37%, to more than 40 million daily users. And Verizon bought BlueJeans, a videoconferencing service, to enter the fray of providers.
While Facebook could make a dent in the videoconferencing market, it still faces skepticism because of its privacy record. A federal judge last week approved a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission over how the social media giant collects and monetizes personal information gathered through its platform.
The Buzz: “We’re going to be dealing with this for quite some time to come,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in announcing Messenger Rooms.
Channelnomics Point of View: Many people will scoff at businesses using Facebook Messenger Rooms, but free services do have a way of attracting business users. In the channel, many managed service providers use Facebook as a primary medium for peer groups and broadcasting live video chats. Chances are that Messenger Rooms will find its way into the IT channel sooner rather than later.