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Messenger Rooms: Facebook launches Zoom competitor

SAN FRANCISCO: Facebook introduced a videoconferencing tool and expanded livestreaming features on Friday, capitalizing on a surge in demand for video chats during the coronavirus pandemic while taking its first steps toward a planned integration of messaging products across its apps.

The videoconferencing tool, Messenger Rooms, will enable as many as 50 people to participate in a call, the company said in a statement. It will display a tiled layout of participant videos – up to 16 on desktop and 8 on mobile – resembling the design offered by competitor Zoom.

Zoom’s share price sank 3.7% from the day prior to about $163 in the minutes following the announcement, after hitting a record high of $181.50 earlier in the day. The move in Facebook’s shares was less dramatic, up 2.4% from the previous day to $189.51.

Facebook users will be able to share links enabling non-users to join Rooms via a web browser on both desktop and mobile, eliminating requirements to download an app or create an account as on other services.

There will be no time limits on the calls.

With the launch, Facebook joins a crowded field of companies rushing to dominate the market for video meetings, as millions of people locked in their homes around the world are suddenly reliant on the tools for work, school and social life.

Elements of the product had been slated for release in the third and fourth quarters of the year, but Facebook accelerated its plans 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,” said Chudnovsky. “So we figured out a way to build those things faster.”

Facebook said in its statement there were now more than 700 million accounts participating in calls on WhatsApp and Messenger each day.

Microsoft Corp, Zoom Video Communications, Cisco Systems and Alphabet’s Google also have rolled out updates of their video meeting tools while reporting record growth since the lockdowns began.

On Tuesday, Microsoft introduced a new “Meet Now” for Skype that can accommodate video meetings of up to 50 people without downloading any apps. Google, whose Meet tool for businesses has been its fastest-growing service this year, said this month that it was working on enhancements for consumers too.

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