The State of Corporate Video 2021
2020 proved to be a year like no other, apart from possibly 1918. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid introduction of lockdowns and working from home drove a massive increase in the adoption of collaboration tools, with many of them using WebRTC video at their core. This environment naturally accelerated the adoption of platforms, with most organisations taking only a few weeks to implement what would have typically taken them years.
The profile and usage of video chat and collaboration apps grew significantly, with existing corporate platforms such as Microsoft Teams doubling down on offerings as lesser-known platforms such as Zoom were catapulted to prominence.
This rapid acceleration of adoption has led to a new normal, and the argument of many corporates that mass working at home was impractical or difficult to implement has forever been refuted.
So, in this new environment, who have the big winners and losers been, and what does it mean for the year ahead as the world returns to some kind of normalcy?
The Year of Zoom
During the initial stages of the pandemic, the key focus on enabling employees to work from home led to significant growth for the major platforms offering video meeting functionality.
Zoom reached 430,000 paying enterprise customers with at least 10 employees in its second quarter, a rise of 485% from 66,000 a year ago. Q3 saw the company mark 367% year-on-year revenue growth.
It was not all smooth sailing for Zoom, however, as the platform was hit by concerns about its security. This became very public in April, when the regular UK government cabinet meeting was found to be accessible to all who could guess the URL. These security concerns resulted in Zoom freezing development work for 90 days and using the time to enhance security. Since then, it has added more than 100 security features, as well as implemented a significant increase in the company data centre infrastructure and acquired Keybase, an encryption startup.
2020 was the year of Zoom, reaching 430,000 paying enterprise customers with at least 10 employees in the second quarter, a rise of 485% from the same quarter of 2019.
Microsoft Teams, the internal management and comms platform with video meeting functionality, has also shown sharp growth this past year, with 115 million active users in October 2020 versus 32 million reported back in March and 75 million in May.
But it’s difficult to compare Microsoft’s numbers to those of its rivals, as the company is not clear about how it defines an active user. Both Zoom and Google, for example, report daily active participants, which means a single user could be counted multiple times through different meetings during a day. For comparison, Google revealed it had 100 million daily active participants early in 2020, and Zoom said it had 300 million daily active participants.
In a similar way to the other main platforms, Microsoft has been rapidly improving Teams throughout the pandemic to respond to users’ feature requests.
Both Teams and Zoom added new functionality—Teams Together and Immersive Scenes, respectively—to give a different look and feel to meetings to help address some of the user burnout from video meetings, generically known as “Zoom fatigue.” These new ways of presenting meetings are likely to prolong their usage, giving users more options to participate in different ways.
Microsoft made significant improvements in Teams throughout the pandemic in response to user feature requests.
Microsoft has also opened Teams’ doors to third-party apps, made the service available to consumers, and promised more new features in the coming year. Zoom integrates with more than 600 applications and is looking to expand the number in its Zapps (Zoom apps) range to further build out the non-core functionality.
Google Meet’s growth of active users suggests that all three platforms have benefited from the pandemic as low-cost platforms which have a low barrier to entry. Cisco’s Webex platform also showed growth as a product with a similar low barrier, since it also doesn’t require a separate app to work effectively in a similar way to Google Meet or the basic version of Zoom. Webex was expected to have around 600 million users on the platform in October 2020, a near doubling of users since March.
Cisco has historically focussed the product on businesses, but the company is beginning to evolve the platform to make a play for the large educational market, putting it in direct competition with Google Classroom, a variant of Meet.
Google Meet revealed it had more than 100 million daily active participants in early 2020, a number that surely climbed as the year went on.
Innovating for the Future
Going forward, however, the continued growth of all of these products will be dependent on the new partnerships they forge and the innovations that enable them to engage in different ways with customers. This has been one of the key changes we have seen as the pandemic has gone on. Beyond simply supplying the streaming and comms services, platforms are beginning to adapt to fulfil business-specific requirements.
This innovation will be key to the ongoing success of all platforms as the environment changes again in 2021 with sustained platform use coming from the number of people working from home. Meanwhile, the more casual use of the platforms for communications between family members is likely to decrease as vaccine programmes begin to roll out.
Therefore, further diversification of these platforms will be essential in both the short and long term in order to sustain growth.
In the short term, Zoom, for example, has been used by the BBC for recordings to bring in a virtual audience for both TV and radio programmes. This enables the recording of reactions of the audience to be used, rather than programmes being broadcast to an empty studio with only the muted reactions of the crew. ITV in the UK has used this tech for some of its high-profile live audience-based shows such as Britain’s Got Talent to deliver a virtual audience which appears on a giant video wall as part of the studio setup.
Similar tech has most prominently been used for live sporting events in which an audience of fans can be seen reacting to the on-pitch action. Teams has been deployed for audiences to watch the NBA and appear courtside, and Zoom has been used by the Premier League.
While there is likely to be some reticence from audience members to attend events and recordings in the coming year, as the vaccine rollout progresses, audiences will, of course, return. Very small crowds were allowed in to spectate at football matches in the UK in December.
To sustain long-term growth, the platforms have to develop services which can help enable and deliver new services, thereby adding value for businesses and users.
HSBC in the UK has been using Zoom to help deliver its mortgage appointments as virtual experiences. Rather than going into the branch, customers can now use Zoom for their final appointment, meaning they are using what is now relatively familiar tech while still enabling the appointments to be carried out effectively. This kind of application has the ability to become the new norm as virtual meetings are likely to be easier to arrange and manage than face-to-face ones, even after life returns to normal.
At the end of 2020, Zoom made the most expansive move into new business areas of any of these platforms. Over the course of the pandemic, the events industry has desperately tried to adapt and change as real-world events were cancelled and replaced by virtual experiences. This hit every type of event, from corporate events to large industry exhibitor shows, and from music performances to plays.
The main issue with those organisations pivoting to virtual events is how to manage the various experiences and sessions while also taking care of payment and content. We have seen some fantastic examples of this being done successfully, but it has required a huge amount of work to bring all those moving parts together.
Zoom’s announcement of the new OnZoom platform offers all those components in one place to ensure that the complexity is reduced.
In its current state, the platform allows subscribers to run a one-off or series of events featuring between 100 and 1,000 participants. Tickets can be charged for and issued through the platform, removing the need for an ecommerce element to be provided by the event organiser. For charities, there is also the option of integrating Pledgeling to collect donations.
Outside of these single platforms, brands have also begun to look at how they can exploit the environment and create experiences across a variety of platforms, enabling them to reach users no matter what tech is used. L’Oreal’s Signature Faces filter allows users to put various video makeup effects on their content on Snapchat, Google Duo, Instagram, and Snap Camera.
Most importantly, the Snap Camera integration lets users employ the virtual makeup on Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Twitch, and Houseparty, opening up a much wider reach for the brand.
Enter Salesforce and Slack
Not all collaborative platforms managed to grow their audience this year, however. Slack, for example, failed to capitalise on the change in the environment. During Q2, it saw a slowing in growth due to freezes in hiring and head count reductions among clients, and it failed to reach its billing target by around $14 million despite a 30% increase year-on-year of paying customers.
Slack began talks in October with Salesforce about a sale, and the companies confirmed the deal in December. A valuation of $27.7 billion would make it Salesforce’s biggest acquisition to date. If the purchase goes through, it would mean that Salesforce is again taking the fight to Microsoft Teams.
The key element where Salesforce still lags behind is ironically in the video meeting space. The Salesforce Meetings product, which entered beta in October, will be available in February 2021. Rather than focussing on the video call tech, Salesforce is looking to integrate with Zoom and Google Meet while focussing on the quality of its own meeting offering. This would open up additional information feeds, including extra client notes, bios, and speaker functionality, as well as post-analysis via AI to highlight product and rival mentions within the conversation.
It will be intriguing to see how the acquisition of Slack and the integration of other video platforms will enable Salesforce to offer a more complete package to its customers.
More traditional on-demand platforms Kaltura and Brightcove also took the opportunity to offer cross-organisational comms and virtual events-based services. The latter service is likely to be where both can gain the most traction, as it best leverages the existing infrastructure of the platform. Historically, however, Brightcove’s live offering has not been particularly advanced, so it remains to be seen if it can really make inroads in these sectors. Certainly, in that respect, Brightcove looks to be ahead of its rival with the successful delivery of large events such as NAB in September 2020.
Brightcove CEO Jeff Ray has called the pandemic “evolutionary,” rather than “revolutionary,” and that does make clear where Brightcove’s strengths lie: in helping organisations— be they brands, local broadcasters, or others—that are trying to communicate using on-demand video content.
2020 has been a step-change year, with the live video market’s reach and use exploding due to the pandemic. However, with vaccine programmes rolling out across the world, it remains to be seen how the market will change in 2021.
The fundamental change will be in how these platforms adapt to take advantage of a new wave of consumers who are now comfortable with the idea of video meetings from home. People perhaps being less keen to travel, and services therefore having to be delivered in different ways, could have the biggest influence on the sustainability of growth in the sector.
There are already real-world events which will not bounce back to be the same size as they were pre-pandemic but will instead become hybrids, with both rea-world and virtual experiences. How the platforms adapt to this hybrid world and the changing nature of delivery will be key to their success. We are about to see an expansive growth of all these elements to deliver new and interesting virtual services over live video, from fast-moving consumer goods to high-end retailers, and from banks to doctors.
Whether we can expect concrete change in the way we engage with brands still remains to be seen, but many millions of people around the world have found the virtual experience to be not only something they can easily participate in, but also one they may prefer.
We've seen major shifts in the corporate streaming landscape, even before COVID-19 changed the way we all do business. What will 2020 bring?
Familiar names run up against challenges of scale, while new entrants search for adoption