Facebook is building Lasso, a video music app to steal TikTok’s teens

Facebook is working on a new app that it hopes could win back the attention of teens while capitalizing on its recently attained major label music licenses. Facebook is building a standalone product where users can record and share videos of themselves lip syncing or dancing to popular songs, according to information from current and former Facebook employees.

The app is designed to be a standalone competitor to Musical.ly, which was a hit with teens and even pre-teens before the 60 million monthly user product was acquired by Chinese tech giant ByteDance for around $1 billion and rolled into the company’s TikTok app.

“It’s basically TikTok/Musically. It’s full-screen, built for teens, fun and funny and focused on creation,” one source told me. “A lot of what they’re doing is just trying to be cool.”

The product is being built by members of Facebook’s video and Watch team under leadership from Facebook’s principal lead product designer Brady Voss, a source says.

One of the leaders of the Facebook video music app team is Brady Voss, who built this feature, Montage, as part of a Facebook hackathon in 2016

Voss previously worked on Facebook’s TV app as well as the recently shut down Hello standalone app. For a 2016 hackathon project he presented to Mark Zuckerberg, Voss made a technology called Montage that would stitch together into a single image like a still time-lapse photos of say a snowboarder doing a trick. Now he’s back at making creative expression simpler with Lasso. “Brady is great with fun new camera and video things,” a source said.

Facebook has been investigating the teen music app space since 2016, when a source says the company spun up a research project to look into Musical.ly. There were suspicions that Musical.ly might not be as popular as it touted, and Facebook eased off.

Then earlier this year, Facebook’s music efforts were reinvigorated when it secured licensing deals with all the major record labels. At first, this just kept users’ videos, including Musical.ly-style lip syncing clips, from being taken down for copyright infringement.

But soon it launched music stickers on Instagram that let you add soundtracks to your Stories, and that feature rolled out on Facebook today. The company also began experimenting with a Lip Sync Live feature for live-streaming karaoke, and today Facebook opened it for Pages and began showing some songs’ lyrics on screen. It plans to soon allow users to pin their favorite songs to their profile so friends can listen to a segment in what feels like a throwback to Myspace Music.

Meanwhile, TikTok is on the rise. The app has climbed from the No. 32 overall iPhone app in the U.S. three months ago to reach No. 5 today, according to App Annie.

Now just 5 percent of U.S. teens cite Facebook as their favorite social platform, according to a Piper Jaffray survey. The percentage who use it monthly has dropped from 60 percent to 36 percent since Spring 2016. Facebook needs new ways to engage teens beyond Instagram and WhatsApp, and a standalone music app potentially devoid of its own branding could be a better approach than cramming teen features like Lip Sync Live into its uncool main app.

Facebook already tried and failed to win back the youth with standalone apps like Poke, Slingshot, Bolt, Flash and other variations on Snapchat. But with U.S. giants like Snap and YouTube neglecting to build proper tools for video music creation, Facebook has a shot to challenge China’s ByteDance. Most people aren’t interesting on camera, especially awkward teens. But with the right soundtrack, a stupid selfie video can become epic — or at least silly enough to watch.