Facebook May Turn its Portal Smart Display Into Your New Media Streaming Device and Bring Video Calling to TVs
The Information is reporting (N.B. paywall) that Facebook has “has approached Netflix, Disney and other media companies about putting their streaming services on a new Facebook device for making video calls from televisions.” Hulu, HBO, and Amazon have also been approached about providing content for the new device, codenamed Catalina. “The device, which Facebook is aiming to release this fall, will use the same video-calling technology that is in Facebook’s camera-equipped smart speaker, called Portal.”
A Social Voice-Controlled Experience
Facebook released its Portal smart display in October 2019 and its most noteworthy feature was video chat, including a camera that follows users as they move around the room. Google demonstrated a similar feature for its forthcoming Nest Hub Max due out this fall. Voicebot reported in June about rumors that Facebook is planning an update to Portal this fall under a project name called Ripley. In May, Voicebot also evaluated comments by company CEO Mark Zuckerberg that seemingly confirmed earlier rumors that a new voice assistant is under development by the social media goliath. Separately, Voicebot staff has been informed about new hires going to Facebook specifically to work on voice at its Seattle development campus.
For Facebook, the core idea behind Portal is to offer a device that helps connect people through video chat much like Amazon’s Echo Show smart display does today. Voice control is a useful feature and for video chat Portal is controlled by Facebook’s own assistant technology. All other “smart speaker” voice assistant features are provided by Amazon’s Alexa which is also accessible through the device. That partnership enabled Facebook to come to market with a competitive smart display that met consumer feature expectations while wowing them with a more sophisticated video chat experience.
A solution for televisions that builds on the video chat features could enable Facebook to expand its footprint much faster than cajoling consumers into purchasing a new video chat device. However, it is unclear from The Information’s reporting whether or how closely Ripley and Catalina may be related. Given that Facebook is courting the top media streaming services, it is likely a product that will compete with solutions such as Apple TV, Roku, and Nvidia Shield.
A Media-First Experience with Voice as a Feature
If Catalina is designed to replace streaming media devices in the home, offering a wide variety of streaming services is clearly a competitive requirement. This type of platform would also offer the company a living-room native platform on which to prominently display Facebook Live video content. In addition, it could also add considerable value to the Portal devices by enabling them to become media hubs. In this case, voice-only interactions are more of an afterthought. The purchase rationale is about media consumption and video chat with voice navigation a convenient feature. Voice-only interactions merely add to the value proposition and enable users to discard smart speakers.
Facebook’s voice assistant strategy appears to be evolving rapidly. It was never going to make sense for the company to fight for parity with Amazon and Google because they have different outlooks about how they serve consumers. Facebook connects people with each other in its core service and video chat (voice-controlled or not) is a logical extension of that mission. The social media platform also connects people with visual media. Catalina along with new media streaming partnerships seem well aligned with that objective as well.
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