Facebook’s new Portal video chat aims to increase user engagement amid stagnating social media consumption (FB)

Another tech giant entered the smart TV device arena, as Facebook announced the Portal TV this week. The clip-on device, on sale in November for $149, enables streaming from Facebook, Amazon Prime, and Spotify, though it notably lacks Netflix, Hulu, and HBO.

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It also features a 120-degree wide-angle camera, which plugs into an HDMI port. Beyond offering standard video chat, Portal TV features a "Watch Together" mode, in which users can video chat while consuming streaming content together. Portal TV builds on Facebook's previous generation of Portal devices, which were standalone products featuring tablet-sized touchscreens.

Portal TV creates a new form of user engagement in the midst of plateauing time spent on social media platforms. In 2019, US consumers spent the majority of their days consuming media — an astounding average of 12 hours and 9 minutes per day, according to eMarketer. However, last year they spent 38 minutes on Facebook per day, representing a 3-minute decrease compared to 2017. This presents a considerable problem, since Facebook's business model relies on monetizing user attention through ad revenue. During Q2 2019, 98% of Facebook revenues came from advertising.

In response, Facebook has invested in new mechanisms of engagement that can squeeze additional profit from existing customers. Watch Together mode on the Portal TV creates one such new form of user engagement, as it can increase time spent on the Facebook platform in a way that feels distinct from traditional social media use.

Previous efforts include Facebook Spaces, which utilizesFacebook's Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles to generate virtual hangout environments. And just this week, The Verge reported that Facebook teamed up with eyewear brand Luxottica to develop augmented reality glasses which will allow users to overlay media onto their visual surroundings.

Facebook is following the likes of Amazon and Google in developing devices that augment the traditional TV experience rather than attempt to supplant it. While much ado has been made about the rise in digital media, the average US consumer still watches TV for over 3 1/2 hours per day, according to eMarketer.

While tech companies likely prefer consumers engage with digital media, as it enables more targeted advertising, they must also face the reality that consumer behavior has not yet shifted away from this traditional form of media. For this reason, Amazon, Google, and now Facebook have all introduced products that aim to simply augment the traditional TV viewing experience. By embedding their services in this experience, the tech giants can gently introduce digital services that wouldn't otherwise be utilized.

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