5 Ways the Coronavirus Business Impact Permanently Changes Live Video Streaming
The worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), is changing the way people interact, watch entertainment, and work across the world. The need to contain the virus by reducing person-to-person contact has pushed companies to move conferences online (or cancel them), decrease business travel, and ultimately allow their workforce to telecommute. Public health concerns have also resulted in changes to how we experience our entertainment, with concert and sports cancellations in order to avoid gatherings of large crowds. Even schools have closed to avoid further transmission.
While many of these changes are temporary, some will have longer-lasting implications. Here's a look at how this novel coronavirus changes live video streaming forever:
Increase in Virtual Conferences
One of the biggest concerns regarding coronavirus's business impact is the need to eliminate or reduce the in-person interactions often necessary for conducting business. In order to maintain productivity, physical communication must be transferred to virtual communication. To address this concern, companies have adopted virtual conferencing solutions. This shift has already greatly increased the demand for live streaming platforms such as Hopin or Zoom. The weeks to come will only further increase this demand lest most productivity grind to a halt.
Hopin is a London-based startup that provides 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.
"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 cofounder and CEO Johnny Boufarhat.
Hopin is focusing heavily on conference organizers who may not want to cancel their events altogether and it is looking to help them run their proceedings through its platform. Physical events that have already moved to online-only include the WAN Summit New York, Salesforce's 2020 World Tour Sydney, and the Geneva International Motor Show.
To overcome this challenge, virtual conferencing solutions will need to be able to scale-up to support millions of users and provide true interactivity by keeping latency below 500 milliseconds (ms).
While Zoom is also being leveraged for replacing conferences, and it’s doing very well because of this new use case, Zoom is proving to be more of a stop-gap solution that doesn’t address the level of interactivity that would replace a physical conference. For this reason, there’s tremendous interest in conferences moving to true virtual events platforms.
Telecommuting Is Now the Norm
Some workspaces may not have the same attendance as large conferences, but an office can present many of the same concerns for transmission of the coronavirus. Employers are mitigating this risk by allowing employees to telecommute. While this may not be a new thing for software companies, it surely is for many others in sectors like education, public administration, and finance. This new way of working has moved the interaction between team members to platforms like Zoom and it is not surprising that its stock increased 75% this year, making it one of the best-performing stocks.
Alongside video conferencing solutions, employers need a reliable way to connect with their employees and keep their teams connected when telecommuting. Dynamic Signal allows just that. It is an inclusive, easy-to-use platform that can distribute messages across communication channels. Every employee can be heard with features such as comments, likes, chats, and user-submitted content while also allowing businesses to collect feedback with targeted surveys and polls. Dynamic Signal also offers live video streaming, allowing CEOs and other managers of large companies to address their hundreds of thousands of employees right from their smartphone’s camera.
As more businesses familiarize themselves with online communication technologies, telecommuting will gradually become the norm.
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.
Sports events are highly impacted as well. As of March 13th, 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.
Low latency will be essential not only to improve the viewer experience and make them feel like they are a part of the action, but to prevent spoilers as well. If different providers have a latency of multiple seconds, then Tweets and text messages can spoil the excitement. With WebRTC, it’s possible to have latency under 500 milliseconds, which creates real-time latency and full interactivity. Already an online platform, esports and video game streaming services depend upon low latency to ensure that everything stays in sync and that fans commenting on player interactions correspond to the action on the screen.
Furthermore, stream quality will be important as well. Poor scalability can result in the stream freezing continuously, or maybe not delivering at all … until the last few decisive seconds when you miss the final point and the stream just skips ani-climatically to the final score. Features such as ABR and transcoding will ensure that the best quality stream is sent to viewers in response to their current bandwidth.
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. Continuing to educate students is very important and the adoption of distance learning tools will be key to this.
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.
Flexible and customizable software solutions may even allow for creating features to help keep students focused, such as switching comments on and off and muting students until the instructor is ready to answer questions. There could even be a feature where students could break out into separate groups to discuss a prompt or reading assignment.
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.
Another concern, especially for international students, would be global availability. Students streaming from Europe or Asia to a U.S.-based school should be able to see the same quality and latency as U.S.-based students. Setting-up clusters in data centers, managed by hosting providers in different regions, enables for the highest possible performance no matter where the users live.
True Interactive Experiences
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.
2020 will certainly be a growing opportunity for streaming companies, and latency and scale will be crucial. While handling a few hundred or a few thousand viewers may not be too hard, supporting hundreds of thousands or several millions is a different story especially when aiming for end-to-end latencies below 500 ms. The complete coronavirus business impact will become clear in the future. 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.
Once people experience true interactivity and real-time streaming with these virtual events, there will be no going back to passive experiences with 30+ seconds of latency.
Wowza Director of Sales Engineering Tim Dougherty distills results of Wowza's 2019 Streaming Latency Report in this clip from his presentation at Streaming Media West 2019.
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VisualON SVP and Head of Business Development Michael Jones discusses the challenges and timetable for reaching <1 second latency in large-scale live sports streaming in this clip from Esports & Sports Streaming Summit at Streaming Media West 2019.