Now people are comfortable with video

19.38, Tuesday 31 Mar 2020

I wonder what businesses become possible now that people are comfortable with streaming video.

I’ve started doing the 9am P.E. with Joe workouts on YouTube. 30 minutes of exercise is barely compensating for running (it’s hard to find pedestrian-free routes round here), but it’s great to get the heart going, this Joe Wicks guy is warm and genuine, and our toddler - although she isn’t old enough to join in - seems to love it too, charging round the room. Long story short, I’d never done live workouts through the TV before and now I have.

(I try not to think about the telescreen workouts in 1984 while I’m doing it: Winston sprang to attention in front of the telescreen, upon which the image of a youngish woman, scrawny but muscular, dressed in tunic and gym-shoes, had already appeared.)

And everyone’s using Zoom, and Houseparty.

Getting people to do new things is hard. As popular as YouTube is, and as popular as Facebook Live is (or Instagram Stories), they’re very consumption focused, and Netflix (Bandersnatch aside) is still TV.

So getting people to do two new things is impossible. Getting people to group chat by video, okay, but group chat by video and also watch football? Niche. So far.


Now the first hurdle has been removed. Everyone will take for granted the idea that you can watch a live video stream in a group of 500,000 and have live shout-outs from the comments. Or have a group video chat in which friends can drop by. My mum (who is pretty technical, sure) is now playing bridge with her friends over Zoom.

So now what businesses be layered on this mode of interaction?

Doctor consultations, that’s already happening.

Personal shopping, how could that work? How would an artisan farmer’s market work? What about touring Venice by telepresence robot? What if BBC iPlayer launched Houseparty meets DVD box sets?

Could I invite a live sports channel into Zoom with me and my friends? Or a brand new movie?

Technically, we’ll need to plug together three things to make ideas like this happen:

  • a trusted social network that can handle different, overlapping groups of “close friends”, and the idea of presence/availability – I wonder if this could be built as a shared utility by several different companies, in a “public infrastructure” kind of way
  • video software that interoperates with the various discovery endpoints (it’s important, like Zoom, to have links in calendar invites), but that also allows programmatic access – Twilio’s video call APIs might be the infrastructure here
  • video calling which is as interoperable as the phone network. We need peering between Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp video calls, Houseparty, etc. If this is going to work, it’s ludicrous to force a patient who is already familiar with FaceTime to download Zoom to talk to their consultant.


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