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Facebook’s Portal TV Video-Chat Device Sells Out as Social Distancing Takes Hold

By Donna Fuscaldo - Mar 26, 2020 at 10:11AM

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The device was written off as a flop just a few months ago, but with so many people shunning in-person contact due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's suddenly popular.

Facebook's (META 5.10%) Portal TV video chat device is getting a second life amid the COVID-19 outbreak, as people across the globe are forced to work from home, and keep their friends and family at a distance. 

When Facebook began selling the Portal TV in November, the device -- which lets the user video chat using their own TV as the screen -- was quickly dismissed by industry reviewers and privacy experts, and for the same reasons they'd looked askance at prior Portal models. Given the social media company's notable failures to protect its users' data, why would anyone want a Facebook camera in their living room? 

Facebook Portal line up.

IMAGE SOURCE: FACEBOOK.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has altered people's priorities. The Portal TV is now sold out on Facebook's website, and it's out of stock on Best Buy and Amazon.

"Like other companies, we're experiencing impact to our hardware production due to COVID-19,"  a Facebook spokesperson told CNBC. "Some Portal models have been intermittently out of stock in select channels and regions. We are monitoring the situation closely and will continue to make products available as quickly as we can," the Facebook spokesperson said.

Facebook isn't the only company experiencing higher demand for video conferencing devices and software. There are now more than 490,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and almost 70,000 in the U.S. In light of the threat, countries, states, and cities have enacted shelter-in-place rules to stem the pandemic's spread. More than 191 million people in the U.S. alone are now under such orders.

Zoom, Microsoft, and Cisco Systems have all seen big upticks in demand. For example, last week Cisco said it's Webex virtual conferencing software logged 5.5 billion meeting minutes in the first 11 days of March.

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