Facebook Unveils Paid Online Events Feature, Dings Apple for Not Waving Tax

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Facebook asked Apple to waive its 30% App Store tax for the online events, but was denied.

Facebook is rolling out a new feature allowing small businesses to charge for access to online events held on the social media platform, the company announced over the weekend, offering the music industry a potential new way to monetize virtual performances.

The feature, which is available in 20 countries including the U.S., is designed to allow business to create an online event, set a price, promote it, collect payment and host the event all in one place. In testing, Facebook says that businesses have hosted everything from panel talks to podcast recordings, cooking classes and intimate meet-and-greets, and ostensibly the feature could be used for live music performances as well.

"With social distancing mandates still in place, many businesses and creators are bringing their events and services online to connect with existing customers and reach new ones," Facebook App head Fidji Simo writes in a blog post announcement. "By combining marketing, payment and live video, paid online events meet the end-to-end needs of businesses."

Pages can now host events on Facebook Live, and the company is also testing paid events within Messenger Rooms for a more intimate experience. Simo adds that in June, the company saw live broadcasts from Pages double compared to the same time last year, largely attributed to broadcasts since March, when stay-at-home orders began in the U.S.

Facebook will not collect fees from paid online events for "at least the next year," Simo writes. For transactions online and on Android in countries where the company has rolled out its Facebook Pay payment service, this means that businesses will keep 100% of the revenue from their events.

However, that won't be the case on iOS, where Apple takes a 30% App Store tax -- and Facebook isn't happy, adding that the company's request for Apple to waive the tax was denied.

"We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax or allow us to offer Facebook Pay so we could absorb all costs for businesses struggling during COVID-19," Simo writes. "Unfortunately, they dismissed both our requests and SMBs [small and medium-sized businesses] will only be paid 70% of their hard-earned revenue."

Facebook's monetization feature launches in a crowded market for livestreaming, as artists and music venues are beginning to test ticketed online events on platforms like Noonchorus, Driift and Veeps. In May, Facebook-owned Instagram began sharing advertisement revenue from IGTV long-form video streams with creators for the first time, although the platform does not yet allow creators to charge for access to their video streams.