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Facebook joins effort to improve online video

The social networking giant allies with Microsoft, Google, Netflix and Amazon to make online video faster.

The Alliance for Open Media hopes to improve online video compression technology.
The Alliance for Open Media hopes to improve online video compression technology.
Alliance for Open Media

Four of the five biggest companies in tech now are backing an effort to make video easier and cheaper online.

On Monday, Facebook joined the Alliance for Open Media, a consortium building new video compression technology that doesn't require any patent licensing payments. The effort unified next-gen video compression work already under way at Google, Mozilla and Cisco, and includes major online video partners Netflix and Amazon. Microsoft is also part of the alliance.

Video compression may sound like an obscure technology, but it's critical to our life online. Good compression lets us stream video and upload our own in a world where networks often are maxed out even before we all start downloading 4K movies and playing with augmented reality headsets.

For years, the H.264 video compression technology, also called AVC, has dominated the market. Its successor, called HEVC or H.265, could do the same. Apple likes HEVC a lot, pointing out that it cuts video file size 40 percent and, when adapted to photos with a format called HEIC, cuts image sizes 50 percent. But patent licensing issues have held back HEVC adoption, imposing new costs on those who want to use it.

A new Bill Murray show will hit Facebook Watch on Monday.

A new Bill Murray show will hit Facebook Watch on Monday.


YouTube, Netflix and Amazon Prime are nothing to sniff at, but Facebook's support for AV1 is important. More than 2 billion people use Facebook, which means there's a strong incentive for those making processors, operating systems, web browsers and other foundational technology to support the software.

Facebook is big and getting bigger in online video. We watched 100 million hours of video per day on Facebook in 2016, and it's going up from there.

"Over the next three years, the biggest trend in our products will be the growth of video," Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said while the company reported quarterly financial results this month.

"This goes both for sharing, where we've seen Stories in Instagram and Status in WhatsApp grow very quickly, each with more than 300 million daily actives, and also for consuming video content," he said. "We recently launched the Watch tab, where you can discover shows, follow creators, connect with people watching an episode and join groups with people with similar interests to build the community."

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