Why is Facebook buying MSQRD?

10th March 2016
 

Facebook has bought popular video-filter app Masquerade (MSQRD). But what do they hope to gain from the purchase? The BBC asked Soho Strategy’s David Wilkinson to guide them through the logic behind the acquisition.

Why buy?

A company like Facebook could easily compete and build their own filters or solution in the space of a few weeks or months. For them an acquisition like this is a case of acquiring people with the talent who know the domain better than anybody else, and to buy a solution that’s already been started is for Facebook frankly an efficient use of capital. The relative cost is very small.

Facebook’s competition with Snapchat

In 2013 Facebook tried to buy out Snapchat and was rejected. In 2014 they tried to launch a competitor, Slingshot, which was once described as a “good-looking, short-lived failure”. But more recently Facebook has had some success in online video in other areas. In 2014 for the first time Facebook Page owners uploaded more videos directly to Facebook than they did via sharing from YouTube – a big milestone – and in 2015 Facebook’s number of video impressions exploded as they began auto-playing video content in peoples timelines.

Today Facebook has over 1.5 billion monthly active users, whilst we know that Snapchat has 100 million or so active daily users (directly comparable metrics are hard to come by, definitions of “active” vary and the numbers given are self-reported by the companies involved).

Snapchat users share and view over 7 billion videos a day, whilst we know that figure for Facebook is about 8 billion. But in many senses Facebook finds itself playing catchup to a much younger, more agile challenger.

Snapchat’s USP

Snapchat has for some time now incorporated “filters” onto its photo and video messaging – allowing users to overlay effects, stickers, emojis and text onto their images.

Snapchat has also offered users the ability to send stories – mass-broadcasted messages visible for 24-hours only (think someone’s Facebook wall, but instead of being a permanent record it exists only for a single day).

But Snapchat is of course best known for its ephemeral messaging. Unless somebody screenshots an individual snap, that snap is only visible for somewhere in the region of 1-10 seconds. Facebook’s failed attempt at growing Slingshot focused in on this feature in the belief that it was the primary driver underlying Snapchat’s success.

Today the novelty of filters, perhaps, is part of that success – but fundamentally Snapchat is just a different means of communication.

Snapchat is quick, fast and illustrative. It is more personal than a text or Facebook message, and less commitment than a long one-on-one telephone or Skype call. It allows people to mass-broadcast without appearing to mass-broadcast.

Takeaway

Going forward we can almost certainly expect further integration of video into Facebook’s messenger platform, perhaps with inline ephemeral messaging baked in to future versions, too. For now MSQRD represents Facebook’s ambition in video and a recognition that rich multimedia content is the future of online media.

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