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New Opportunities: 2020's Top 5 Shifts for Videoconferencing Consumption

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Among its many impacts, the pandemic has disrupted communication for all of us. To compensate, millions worldwide have adopted videoconferencing to keep communication channels as open as possible.

But something important is missing from many of the videoconferencing platforms on which we now depend—reliable, quality captioning. Captions can ease multiple challenges that conference participants regularly face, from providing equal access to the millions of deaf or hard of hearing (DHOH) individuals shut out of discussions completely to helping reduce "Zoom fatigue" where too many online meetings impact comprehension and retention.

Given the staggering increase of video conference software downloads, including over 300 million reported on the Zoom platform alone, demand for captions clearly outpaces any solution that can be manually delivered by human captioners. That leaves Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) technology as the only viable solution that can scale to the scope of the need. Proper adoption of specialized ASR will help savvy companies gain preference and advantage in new market spaces where demand has exploded in 2020.

Here are five hot opportunities:

Distance Learning

With the remote vs. in-classroom debate raging, large-scale distance learning is a new reality. Barely into the fall semester, colleges and universities that allowed students back on campus (over a third of 5,000 nationwide) are facing major coronavirus outbreaks; many have already had to revert to online instruction. The other two thirds of schools are fully online already. The same challenge is faced in primary and secondary education, as school districts and parents struggle with the right way to get kids back to effective learning.

Even before the pandemic, the size of the global elearning market was estimated at $165B, and expected to grow to over $240B by 2023. Elearning serves geographically dispersed communities, enables presentation from remote guest lecturers, and makes materials available for student review 24/7. Captions help with leaner engagement, comprehension and retention. They're invaluable for English as a Second Language (ESL) training, and for students who are learning in their non-native language. They can also help keep schools in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which require equal access for all students. As many universities struggle to comply with digital accessibility requirements, some are now even being sued by disabled students.

Religious Services

The pandemic has separated those seeking spiritual guidance and community connection from physical houses of worship. While some facilities have reopened for limited attendance, many worshipers are staying away in an abundance of caution. Ministry has moved online in a big way, adopting digital solutions from mainstream videoconferencing platforms to tailored offerings like sermon.net and pray.com. Again, captioning will provide an experience that is inclusive for all participants, enable translation for non-native language speakers, and allow transcripts (in native or non-native languages) for reflection later on. Down the road, if congregation members move out of town or otherwise resist returning to their house of worship, digital platforms also offer religious leaders a way to keep in touch and keep their institutions financially viable.   

State and Local Governments

State-level and municipal governments have myriad needs to communicate with constituents, from city council and board of education meetings, press conferences and public announcements to health and emergency services to election information—an especially critical issue in the current moment. Governments across the country have adopted videoconferencing as a communication channel during the pandemic. With cash-strapped municipalities struggling to fulfill their mission, and since technology allows them to reach far more constituents than ever before, videoconferencing will be integral to government service delivery going forward.

Working from Home

Of course, there is also the massive shift to remote work that has affected workers and businesses worldwide since the pandemic took hold. At the end of April, three leading videoconference platform providers announced huge increases in user participation: Google's Google Meet platform was adding about 3 million users per day, and exceeded 100 million daily participants; despite some well-publicized security challenges (since corrected), Zoom reached 300 million daily meeting participants; and Microsoft Teams grew to 75 million daily users.

While businesses now depend on using these and other similar services to keep their workforce and customers engaged, many platforms don't offer direct caption integration. Even with those that do, caption quality can be poor - lagging behind the speaker, not identifying a change of speaker, overlaying important visuals, or not segmenting captioned lines in a logical way. Some platforms only provide captions in a separate window or screen. Some don't offer them at all.

Social Inclusion

Finally, in this time of significant disconnection, people are relying on technology for social contact. While platforms like Facebook and Instagram are mainstays, a significant number of people look more to live streaming video for connection and engagement. For instance, popular dating site match.com has recently introduced a new videoconferencing capability to allow virtual conversations when in-person dates are restricted by health concerns. Other emerging platforms like MeetMe.com and Yubo are digital outlets for making new contacts and friends via live streaming experiences. As is well proven with social media, once something catches on it's here to stay. Expect videoconferencing to be integrated into an increasing breadth of social platforms from now on.

Quality captioning is critical to the user experience across all of these markets.  With ASR offering the only solution that can scale to the need, videoconference platform owners and developers are best served by working with the ASR providers able to custom-tailor accurate language models for unique domain requirements.  While COVID-19 changed life quickly and dramatically, out of disruption comes opportunity for those willing to take the pulse of the moment to embrace new ways of being.

[Editor's note: This is a contributed byline from AppTek. Streaming Media accepts vendor byline based solely on their value to our readers.]

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