As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread across the world, it has severely impacted businesses. Most companies depend upon some form of face to face interaction to conduct business. That means that the social distancing, quarantine periods, and crowd restrictions required to stem the spread of the virus have disrupted a wide variety of different industries.
The obvious benefactors of home quarantine are streaming services such as Netflix, but there are others that have benefited as well. While the full coronavirus business impact is still emerging, we know the severe issues it is currently creating. This post examines some of the obvious and less obvious ways that live streaming has emerged to fix some of these problems.
With global giants such as Facebook (44,942 employees), Google (120,000 employees), Twitter (4,900 employees), Microsoft (144,000 employees) and Amazon (650,000 employees) implementing remote working policies for many or all of their employees, that’s quite a large number of remote workers. Granted there’s a good chance that they already had quite a few teleworkers, but still, that’s almost 1 million workers just between those 5 companies.
Considering that those business leaders have made the switch, many other companies have followed suit. This has resulted in what could realistically be hundreds of millions of new teleworkers.
As such, meeting scheduling platform x.ai network has reported a more than 20.09% rise in virtual meetings since the beginning of March, while in-person meetings declined sharply beginning March 9.
In the week between March 9 and March 16, 15.79% of all meetings moved online, as in-person meetings fell to just 8.55% of meetings being scheduled in the x.ai network. This coincides with the decision by the major tech firms mentioned above, to advise their employees to work remotely.
Virtual meetings now represent 91.45% of meetings being scheduled in the x.ai network, as of March 16th, up from 75.66% the week prior.
Chinese based businesses have seen a surge as well. After the return from the extended Lunar New Year holiday, employees from more than 10 million corporations were working from home on DingTalk that Monday. The number of users on the app exceeded 200 million that day, becoming the country's top app just two days later. Other office apps such as Alibaba’s DingTalk and Tencent’s WeChat Work, as well as Bytedance’s Slack-like Lark and Huawei’s WeLink saw increases as well.
This required shift to teleworking is likely to have a long-standing effect as companies realize the benefits that teleworking provides. The flexibility provided by teleworking can increase worker productivity as employees can optimize their personal mental and physical well-being needs. Eliminating commutes isn’t just good for the environment, but reduces employee stress levels which again increases productivity. Furthermore, the reduction of required office space with more teleworkers decreases costs, and means that a workforce does not need to be limited to people willing to move to physical commuting distance.
The need to contain the virus by reducing person-to-person contact has pushed companies to postpone or cancel conferences, including hundreds of large conferences such as Facebook's annual F8 conference. In order to maintain productivity, some conferences such as the Adobe Summit, WAN Summit New York, Salesforce's 2020 World Tour Sydney, and the Geneva International Motor Show have been moved online.
This has led to an increase in the usage of online conference platforms such as the London-based startup Hopin. They provide an all-in-one live online events platform for up to 100,000 attendees from anywhere in the world who can connect, learn, and interact with one another. Other options include Nearpod, vFairs, iVent, INXPO, and MeetYoo. There are even companies such as Virtway that are working on 3D conferencing.
"We want to make sure everyone can experience the same great benefits of events—the connection you made bumping into someone in a breakout session, the potential customer you met at your booth or the awesome tip you got from a panel speaker—without having to physically attend," says co-founder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat.
The coronavirus has resulted in the banning of people from congregating in large or even small groups. This obviously affects live events such as concerts, sports, and live shows.
Some bands have moved their shows online such as Dropkick Murphys have played the 22nd annual St. Patrick's Day show. Coldplay's Chris Martin invited fans into his home via Coldplay's Instagram to play a 30-minute set and talk to fans. Spain’s Cuarentena Fest is featuring more than 50 artists and bands live streaming performances from their homes on YouTube through March 27. Other artists like British punk singer-songwriter Frank Turner, Miami dance duo Afrobeta, Houston rapper Fat Tony and John Legend are also streaming their own shows on platforms like YouTube and Facebook throughout the week.
The normalization of live streaming could be game-changing for the music business. Expanding concerts beyond the physical limitations of brick-and-mortar venues means big artists can reach millions around the world in a single show. English rocker Yungblud recently played an online show to over 250,000 people. "What was so mental is ... each time 40,000 people were watching. It's like we basically just played a stadium show on the internet."
Thanks to the low margins of streaming economics, this could ease the wear and tear of constant traveling from one place to the next while supplementing a band’s income. It’s also much easier for fans to jump from one show to the next in a virtual environment and to build their own self-directed “lineups” in a given day or week based on their own interests.
Live-streaming music performances also have the added benefit of breaking down the wall between performer and fan. Artists can respond directly to questions leading to more intimate interactive experiences.
Sports events are highly impacted as well. The NBA has suspended its season, UEFA has postponed all competitions, the London Marathon has been moved from April 26th to October 4th, and many other associations and competitions are following suit.
While canceling games has been the first solution, the ultimate one may be to play without fans physically attending in stadiums while broadcasting the events online. A similar approach may be taken to concerts or other live events.
The keys for the success of this approach are low latency and high scalability. The ability to scale to millions of concurrent viewers will be mandatory for any sport or other live events such as concerts, to make sure that their very large fan bases will not be disappointed and upset.
Participants need to see and hear what is happening as it happens. When done right, the cameras moving through the event will make your viewers more than passive spectators. It will elevate them to participants, enveloping them in the events unfolding around them. However, everything needs to flow naturally in order to present a fully immersive experience. In a world saturated with entertainment options, ensuring that every fan can watch the event without any negative consequences will be essential to keeping them happy.
With K-12 schools, colleges, and universities shutting down for weeks, the education field is taking notice of live streaming as well. The adoption of distance learning tools will be essential to continuing the important work of educating students. Using live streaming technology, teachers can broadcast their lesson to students either in a one-to-many stream where the students can watch the teacher and perhaps type in comments and questions, or a many-to-many stream where students can talk directly with the teacher and each other.
When the new school semester started in China on February 10, 600,000 teachers conducted online classes for 50 million students using the live-streaming service of Dingtalk, Alibaba’s enterprise messaging app. Some schools are even streaming PE classes to ensure students cooped inside their houses continue to get the exercise they need.
Like the other use cases, educational live streaming depends upon the ability to scale to as many students as needed and low latency for natural conversation and dialogue.
The banning of large group gatherings makes religious services problematic as well. Some churches are moving their services online. St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City has seen their live-stream traffic almost double. Churchome, a megachurch frequented by celebrities such as Justin Bieber, closed all of its Seattle locations until further notice and has seen its app sign-ups rise 60% in a week. Churchome's virtual Sunday service attendance increased 23%, according to the church.
Like virtual concerts, these online services have the potential to expand the reach of churches and get their message to a wider audience. This change forced upon them by the coronavirus could be long-lasting if churches can see a benefit.
In the face of overwhelmed hospitals and self-quarantine, online doctor visits are proving useful in reducing the risk of face to face exposure. Patients can chat with doctors online to evaluate their symptoms and receive guidance about whether they need to be seen or tested instead of showing up unannounced at the emergency room or doctor’s office. If a patient is deemed a serious enough risk, the medical facilities can be prepared and cleared out ahead of time to minimize the exposure risk for others.
Doctors certainly see the value of online tools. “The use of telemedicine is going to be critical for management of this pandemic,” said Dr. Stephen Parodi, an infectious disease specialist and executive with The Permanente Medical Group, the doctors’ group associated with Kaiser Permanente.
Patients are certainly taking advantage of online medical services. Visits to medical-related mini-programs on Chinese super app WeChat rose 347% over the past 20 days, compared to data recorded in December, according to official WeChat figures. Hangzhou-based WeDoctor Group, backed by Tencent, provided about 777,000 online consultations between January 23 and 30.In the six days to January 29, Tencent’s Trusted Doctors platform handled 1.21 million online consultations nationwide.
As more and more people substitute in person consultations for virtual visits, this is yet another change that could continue into the future.
The coronavirus is affecting how people shop as well. This effect is especially felt in places like China where consumers are already familiar with a variety of live streaming commerce apps. Owned by online giant Alibaba, the ecommerce platform Taobao saw rapid growth in March, with the number of live broadcast rooms and live-stream events surging 100% and 110% year-on-year respectively. An average of 30,000 have been opening new stores each day recently, while many others have been reopening abandoned outlets on the platform.
With more and more people looking for information about the outbreak, online news streaming has seen an increase as well. According to the Q4 Brightcove Global Video Index, global viewers have consumed 31% more news streams than during the same two weeks in 2019.
One day in particular—March 13, the day President Trump declared a national emergency in the United States—saw the time viewers spent with news video streaming rise 47% year-over-year, while the overall number of video views that day was up a whopping 66% over March 13, 2019.
"Broadcasters used to be the go-to source for developing news stories, but the COVID-19 crisis has shown that consumers eagerly turn to streaming news sources for the latest updates—as well as in-depth coverage of news that’s important to them," said Jim O'Neill, principal analyst at Brightcove. "With streaming, news providers can update news on the fly, provide broader, deeper coverage, and pull in points of view from around the globe. And, they don’t need to worry about fitting reports into arbitrary time slots. They have the flexibility to truly tell a better story."
The ability to provide an interactive experience will be fundamental to the long-term success of video streaming technologies. In fact, creating just a passive viewing experience is not enough. The only way for true interactivity is to use live streams with real-time latency so that users can communicate easily and naturally as if they were in the same room. This is especially important for solutions that aim to replace in-person conferences, concerts, or sporting events, since one of the main reasons attendees go is the interaction that they provide.
The coronavirus has profoundly affected people and disrupted normal workflows. The above industries are just a few of those that have been touched by the outbreak. More changes will likely come in the future and reveal the full impact of the virus on live video streaming.
Regardless, this recent push is part of a larger trend driving the adoption of live video streaming technologies. As more and more people familiarize themselves with interactive live streaming, its benefits to individuals and companies will become increasingly apparent. Right now it is clear that the need for low-latency solutions that support millions of viewers will push the live video streaming industry forward and further improve the products already achieving such standards.
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