NEW YORK – Before a pandemic forced millions around the world to lockdown, the phrase “video conferencing” generally expressed a picture of lost business meetings with people who can’t physically be in the boardroom.
But within a few weeks, the corona virus turned a working tool into the backbone of our social lives. And when millions of people participate in virtual birthday parties, religious events, college and college courses, the tech industry is competing to win over a new and rapidly growing user base – even though it’s unclear how long people will need or want to live so much of their lives on the camera.
“We may have accelerated five to seven years̵
Zoom has been an early front runner, reaching hundreds of millions of participants daily and becoming the go-to service for people trying to stay in quarantine. The company will report the results for the three months ending April 30 on Tuesday, where it is expected to provide the first official indication of how large its increase in usage has been during the pandemic – and offer perhaps the clearest glimpse yet of the overnight potential for the market. It is also Zoom’s first revenue report since freezing new feature rollouts to increase its security and integrity following a series of controversies.
More established rivals such as Cisco’s Webex and Microsoft Team have also seen an increase in growth, and Google and Facebook are rejecting their video products to meet right now, with new services mimicking some of Zoom’s most popular features.
It has become the tech industry’s next big battlefield and one where it is not so lonely at the top.
“I see room for several vendors at the top of the conference space,” Kurtzman said. “They will each serve very real purposes in the market, but the winners will be the ones who can be the easiest to use, the easiest to get value with and the easiest to integrate with other applications needed in and outside the workplace.”
The price just seems to get bigger. The video conferencing market was worth $ 14 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow to $ 50 billion by 2026, according to a report earlier this month from research firm Global Market Insights. “The video conferencing market is expected to experience high growth during the coronavirus outbreak,” the report says.
Google has not revealed how many companies currently use Google Meet, but its G Suite, which includes the video conferencing service, is used by 6 million companies around the world. The company made several of Mets premium features free to use until the end of September.
Facebook is trying its new video conferencing service, Messenger Rooms, as a more consumer tool, but Kurtzman says it can also “be used effectively by small businesses that can’t afford a stronger solution.” The company also extended video calls on its mobile messaging service, WhatsApp, and reported the service’s encryption at the end to end in an obvious sweep of Zoom’s problems on that front.
Zoom carved its place in a crowded market with a “freemium” model – free of charge for meetings up to 40 minutes and 100 participants – betting that users would convert to subscriptions thanks to their superior user experience. While this strategy has worked well so far, the free offers from Google and Facebook could potentially lose some of the non-business user base.
Several companies – including Facebook and Twitter – have suggested that remote work can become a permanent norm for many of their employees. But there are still questions about whether the sudden video boom will overtake the pandemic, as countries and states gradually begin to emerge from lockdown. Many workers will probably have to go back to offices or choose to do so rather than live their entire lives on video, which means that demand for these services may decrease.
“Video will be used more, but it will also be used too much. The considerations of always being on and connected apply as much or more to video,” said Adam Preset, senior analyst for digital workplace at research firm Gartner. “For some, a long day of video meetings at work will make video happy hour with friends much less enticing.”
And since Zoom has learned the hard way, it may not be enough to have a product that is versatile and easy to use to keep users happy. A variety of security issues arose in early March, including controversy over the level of encryption it provides and the practice of “Zoombombing” – where trolls interrupt meetings to share trajectory or pornography – requiring scrutiny by US authorities and temporary bans from New York City schools and Singapore.
Zoom responded by crawling to make corrections, turning off all new features for a period of 90 days to focus on privacy and security measures. The 90-day period will end at the end of next month.
“All video vendors ultimately have security issues that they need to solve,” the preset said. “Short-term corrections without the right motivation can only be damage control. There really is no rest if a supplier wants to keep their customer’s trust and maintain their own reputation.”
While zoom seems to remain stable so far, Preset says the effects of new rivals with deep pockets may take some time to play. “A signal will be your next colleague, friend or family member inviting you to meet in something other than Zoom,” he said.
But the uncertainty over how long the pandemic and lockdowns will last, and whether the video boom can surpass them, may give some companies pause before going all-in.
“In companies, the video fight has long raged between some of the most well-known technology companies,” says Preset. “What we are seeing now is a transition as video calls are becoming more necessary and more prominent for consumers. It is risky to join this fight now.”
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