25th - 26th SEPTEMBER 2019  |  OLYMPIA

First look at Mic Drop, Facebook's lip-sync challenge to TikTok

Ad Age 07 Nov 2019 07:33

Facebook is ready to drop a lip-syncing app on Portal, the social network’s video-calling screen, taking another product swing at rivals like TikTok.

This week, Facebook gave a sneak peek of the new app, called Mic Drop, which will only be available through Portal devices. The app has the aesthetic of Guitar Hero, giving people a virtual stage on which they can perform musical numbers for friends on the other end of Portal video calls. The app is Facebook’s latest attempt to infuse its products with activities that appeal to younger audiences and get them sharing more content and experiences within its walls instead of looking for fresher platforms like TikTok or Snapchat.

Facebook hopes Mic Drop can be one of the draws for Portal, a device that needs a holiday boost. This week, Facebook hosted a Portal house party in New York City, taking up five floors in a brownstone to show off the updates to its smart screens and Oculus virtual-reality headsets.

In one room, Kelly Zhou, Facebook’s product manager for augmented-reality experiences, and Nate Salciccioli, creative director for augmented reality and virtual reality at Facebook, had a lip-sync showdown over Portal TV. Salciccioli was video-calling from Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., while Zhou was in New York.

“We know that a lot of times when you’re connecting with people, it’s not just about conversations you have,” Zhou says, “but also the experiences and activities you do together, which is what really sparked this [app].”

Zhou demonstrated how Mic Drop works, flipping through the 40 pop songs that are available in the catalog. (more songs will be available in the future, Zhou says.) There’s Brittney Spears, ’N Sync, Backstreet Boys, Lorde, Wham, John Legend, Justin Bieber and The Eurythmics, among others. Zhou chooses ’N Sync’s “Bye, Bye, Bye.” Then comes the augmented reality portion, where there are a variety of filters that transform the performer’s face and hair into an approximation of one of the artists on Mic Drop. “You’re able to do fun, silly activities around music,” Zhou says.

It looks silly.

On the screen, the performer is festooned in a virtual rock outfit and a digital crowd is roaring. In the real world, the acoustics are not like a rock stadium, there are no screaming fans; just the people on the call in their living rooms. The two participants can send positive energy across the screens by sharing a thumbs up, fire or heart emoji. There is no option for thumbs down. “We’re about positivity,” Zhou says, as she sends a flurry of fire emojis at Salciccioli, during his rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”

The crowd cheers louder with more emojis.

People can send a GIF recap of their performances to friends on Messenger. Mic Drop could come to mobile platforms outside Portal, Zhou says.

Facebook has already developed similar lip-syncing services into the social network, where users can live-stream songs in videos. Last year, Facebook released a standalone app called Lasso, widely viewed as a TikTok clone, for users to create 15-second videos with a pop soundtrack.

Mic Drop works on a more intimate level than TikTok, because people are not performing for strangers. “If I was doing this on TikTok, I would be way more careful about what I was doing and craft it and edit myself,” Salciccioli says. “And this is more about being silly. The kind of thing that you would do on a Friday night with friends if they were with you, you can now do those even when you’re far apart.”

Of course, friends would also have to have a Portal device, which could be an obstacle to adoption. The first-generation of the device came out last year, at a time that Facebook was under fire for its privacy policies. There have been ongoing concerns about Facebook’s collection of data on consumers and how it shares that data, and a home device gives it even greater access to consumer information. That’s why Facebook has prioritized the privacy controls in Portal as it markets the devices.

While the company does not release sales figures, it seems Portal has struggled to gain market share against rivals like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Those companies have had their own privacy concerns, including around their line of home speakers and screen products.

The new line of Portal products went on sale this week. Portal TV is a new iteration of the device that costs $149, and it attaches to TVs, turning them into video-calling screens. The Portal devices are standalone screens, which cost between $129 and $279, depending on the version.

“This is proof the big tech companies all want a place in the home,” says Gene Munster, managing partner at Loup Ventures. “The reason why is a shift towards ambient computing, powered by the digital assistant. When I think of Portal I think it has relatively low market share but one of the values that they’ve created is by adding the camera for video calling. This feature has been copied by other competitors.”

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