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Facebook introduces free video calling for up to 50 people

Facebook on Friday announced a slew of new video-calling features including Messenger Rooms, which allows users to host video calls of up to 50 people.

Messenger Rooms poses an immediate threat to Zoom and Houseparty, two video-calling products that have seen their usage skyrocket over the past month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The new video features arrive as more users turn to Facebook apps to socialize with their friends and family while remaining in quarantine as a result of the pandemic.

Shares of Zoom, which had been up 3% on the day, fell as much as 5% on the news.

Messenger Rooms is the flagship of Facebook’s new video-calling services. The free feature will allow Facebook and Messenger users to create group video calls of up to 50 people. By contrast, Messenger video calls are limited to eight people.

Messenger Rooms’ 50-person limit will not be immediately available. Facebook users will see a smaller limit at launch, but it will soon ramp up to 50 people, a spokesman for the company told CNBC. The limit will vary for users at launch, the spokesman said.

By comparison, Zoom allows up to 100 people to video chat for free for up to 40 minutes. Houseparty supports up to eight people. 

Video calls on Messenger Rooms have no time limit, and they will include features like augmented reality filters that allow people to add silly masks to their faces. Room hosts will also be able to lock the calls and remove users. Facebook and Messenger users can create Messenger Rooms, and they can invite anyone to join, including people who don’t have a Facebook account.

Messenger Rooms will start rolling out to users on Friday, and it’ll ramp up to more regions over the coming weeks.

Facebook also announced that it’s doubling WhatsApp’s video call person limit from four people to eight people. Additionally, the company is introducing a video calling feature to Facebook Dating so users of that service can go on virtual dates. 

“Between WhatsApp and Messenger, more than 700 million accounts participate in calls every day,” the company said in a blog post. “In many countries, video calling on Messenger and WhatsApp more than doubled, and views of Facebook Live and Instagram Live videos increased significantly in March.”

Facebook said it will also expand its Facebook and Instagram livestreaming features. Instagram users, for example, will now be able to post their livestreams to IGTV, giving followers a longer time window to watch livestreams after they’ve been recorded. 

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