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Facebook Opens Messenger App to Media Partners Including ESPN, JJ Abrams

Facebook wants to make the Messenger instant-messaging service — which it claims now has more than 600 million monthly active users worldwide — into a media platform encompassing video and other content, with ESPN and J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot among its nearly 50 partners.

The upgraded Facebook Messenger app will add a wider range of video, voice and location-sharing capabilities, the company announced at its F8 developers’ conference Wednesday.

And Facebook has — finally — introduced an embeddable video player, similar to YouTube, which lets users easily share videos posted on the social service to other websites.

Facebook also said it will support 360-degree videos, a virtual-reality format enabled by Oculus VR, the startup it acquired last year in a $2 billion deal. Earlier this month, Google said YouTube will support 360-degree video uploads from partners including Bublcam, Giroptic’s 360cam, IC Real Tech’s Allie, Kodak’s SP360 and Ricoh Theta.

With the upgraded Messenger app, “We think this service has the potential to let people express themselves in new ways,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said. Already, Facebook serves about 3 billion videos per day, he noted.

The new Messenger app will support animated GIFs and will let users overlay special effects — including a feature from Abrams’ Bad Robot production company that will let people modify videos sent in messages to their friends, and a tool from JibJab Media. Among other partnerships, Facebook’s Messenger will show users the best sports moments of the day from ESPN, said David Marcus, Facebook VP of messaging products.

In addition, the new Facebook Messenger app will let users communicate directly with businesses, such as letting consumers track the status of their packages with shipping companies.

“We’re turning Messenger from a mobile-messaging app into a full-fledged conversational platform,” Marcus said in an interview prior to F8.

The Messenger app will support media content across group conversations; so that would enable, for example, a group karaoke experience, according to Marcus.

For now, Facebook is pursuing two different tracks on the instant-messaging front. The development of Messenger is entirely separate from WhatsApp, the short-messaging service startup Facebook bought last year for $19 billion, which has some 700 million users (but so far, very little revenue to show for it).

Over all, Zuckerberg said in his opening remarks, Facebook’s focus is on making the service more stable and secure. He cited steps the company has made to make the social service a safer destination for users and advertisers.

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