When the lockdown was first announced in the UK, many of us thought it could be nice spending time at home and saving money. However, after reaching the end of Netflix and quickly developing cabin fever, we were pining for new ways to enjoy ourselves. Thankfully, tech companies have been quick to react and provide new ways to entertain.
According to Professor Sophie Scott, Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, people have the highest happiness levels after they see each other. So it’s no surprise that as the workforce moved online, video, rather than audio, calls have become the norm. Meanwhile, on social media, Instagram recently announced a feature called ‘Co-Watching’ that lets users browse the app with friends over video chat. Other tech companies have seen the popularity in their video chat platforms soar, such as Facebook Messenger, Microsoft’s Skype and Google Hangouts.
However, it was with Zoom that we truly saw video socialising take off and witnessed how creative people can be in search of enjoyment from their homes. A standard Friday night will now include some form of ‘Zoom party’, whether for a birthday, work drinks (#Quarantini) or just a catch-up with mates. And it’s not just Gen Z and millennials that are doing this; both my baby boomer parents have downloaded Zoom to chat with their friends, too.
With this trend of virtual socialising, many people are using video chat to continue doing activities they would have done normally or even try new things. Fitness classes, language lessons, virtual pubs, celebrity dance lessons and improv classes – the list is endless.
The benefit doesn’t just lie with users, either – according to recent reports, Zoom’s market value has exploded to $48.8 billion during the crisis, making it worth more than the world’s biggest seven airlines. While this will likely level out again after the pandemic, there is clearly a huge opportunity for similar communications platforms.
Love in the age of coronavirus
Even the world of dating has seen several new platforms spring up. Quarantine Together is an app which asks its registered users every day if they have washed their hands. If they say yes, they are introduced to another user by text. After 15 minutes, the matched users will be offered a link to video chat. Similarly, Filter Off offers users three hand-picked dates every night and they have 90 seconds to connect on live video. After each date, you can decide whether to match or pass.
Like these two apps, there are always companies that will emerge successfully in times when everyone else seems to be struggling – Houseparty, which has skyrocketed in popularity, is another great example. The app allows users to instantly video chat with up to eight friends in a ‘room’ and play games together. When Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, acquired Houseparty last year, it’s unlikely it ever expected to see it fit so perfectly into so many people’s lives so soon after.
Gaming for Good
Fortnite, along with the whole video games industry, has seen a huge increase in downloads. Some of this increase has come from technology investors seeking new ways to meet start-ups. Matchbox.vc, which matches venture capitalists with start-up executives and arranges informal video game sessions between them, has seen a 63 per cent increase in gaming sessions in the space of a week.
As creators engage with audiences in new ways on these platforms, as in the case of Travis Scott’s groundbreaking concert series on Fortnite, savvy brands will follow suit. Deliveroo has already dipped its toe into this new world, recently delivering virtual surprises (and real-world discounts) to users in Singapore. With over 11 million players for this game alone, there is a global opportunity for those who can add value.
Games are an incredible way for people to connect and the industry has recently been backed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a way for people to entertain themselves and practice physical distancing. #PlayApartTogether was created by Activision Blizzard and other game makers in the hope that it can reach millions with important messages to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
As well as playing video games, live-streaming them has created entertainment for millions of people whilst at home. In March, Twitch held a ‘Stream Aid’ event to raise funds for the WHO to contain the spread of COVID-19. Artists such as Diplo, Ellie Goulding, Biffy Clyro and Mumford and Sons took part in the 12-hour stream, raising over $2.5 million. It will be particularly interesting to see if future philanthropic efforts are done in this way, amplifying their reach and fundraising efforts.
As live events and concerts are on hold, the world of culture has also learned how to move online. Broadcasts that were once accessible only at the cinema are now available on-demand – new releases, such as Emma. found incredible popularity through at-home purchases, while institutions like the National Theatre and Old Vic have opened up their performance archives on YouTube for limited releases.
Having access to free performances from the world’s best musicians whilst sitting on your sofa is again something that will not want to be forgotten. There is an opportunity for the musicians and tech platforms to keep allowing people this sort-after content, bringing recognition to both parties and entertaining the public.
It’s in our nature to interact with one another, so the new ways in which we are doing this are not likely to just disappear once the pandemic ends. Seeing friends in person is usually preferred, but in the future if people decide they don’t want to get dressed up to go out, live far away or don’t have the money, they now have more accessible ways of engaging with culture and performance.
Tech has provided us with new opportunities to enjoy ourselves in this difficult time, but it is our desire for human interaction that has made this so successful. Organisations have been offered an exciting opportunity to address a captive, global audience – and those who can satisfy our needs for connection and entertainment will surely attract loyal followers even after normal life resumes.