COVID and the Boom in Zoom

Global News and Perspectives

Adversity strikes people differently. While COVID19 has been a great leveler – infecting the affluent and the disadvantaged alike – many companies (and people) have fared worse than others, depending on their vulnerabilities and the nature of their businesses.

But, like any story of destruction, the Novel Coronavirus crisis too has created new opportunities and allowed some to come out stronger than they were going in.

One man’s meat..

Debacles are often two sided, and ruthless as COVID19 has been, it has benefitted some handsomely. One man’s meat, as they say, is another man’s poison.

We take an in-depth look at one of the biggest beneficiaries of this devastation – Zoom.

Video conferencing is the new black

Before COVID, video conferencing was just a good-to-have option. People used it off and on. It was primarily used by organizations and a distributed workforce – online trainers, start-ups, handful of educators and the odd tech-savvy grandma who used it to connect with her grandchildren.

But, even those who used it saw it as an appendage of sorts, not really as a must-have. Within companies, video conferencing had not really replaced travel – executives still traversed across states and countries to train teams, meet with business partners and make presentations. Many believed that the human-touch could never be replaced, that it was just not the same as meeting face-to-face.

Then the virus hit.

Businesses went into a spiral and the gears changed to survival mode. All reservations had to be overcome – from technological to human – and within a month videoconferencing went from good-to-have to will-sink-without-it. From multinationals and smaller businesses to one-man-armies and educators, everyone got on it. It proved to be the Noah’s Ark that would keep them afloat. And it did.

Today it’s common for people to start their workday (at home) with a yoga video call before they get on a Zoom call in the afternoon with their office teams – while their kids log into their school portals to take online classes. That’s the new digital home (for those who can afford it that is– the digital divide has deepened, but that’s for another post).

We’re living in a virtual world

But here’s the interesting thing – video conferencing is not only being used in the professional space, but in deeply personal ones too. People are virtually connecting for everything, from weddings, parties, dates, birthdays and, believe it or not, even funerals. So popular is the platform that event the Queen, who is in quarantine, is connecting with other Royals via Zoom on her birthday!

But wait it gets better.

Nightlife has moved online too – the most famous example being that of Club Quarantine, where people dress up according to a dress code and pay a cover charge to enter and party. Just like in real life, here too there are exclusive (Zoom) rooms that come for a price. This is where you can hobnob with famous DJs, celebrities and models.

What we’re seeing is a, you-can’t-defeat-us attitude that’s driving people to carry on with their lives in as normal a way as they possibly can, despite the virus. They don’t want to wait for the flattening of the curve to reclaim their lives. They want some semblance of normalcy, and connecting with people gives them reassurance.

Zoom to the top

It’s little surprise then that Zoom, the video conferencing platform founded by the old team of WebEx, is now worth more than American Airlines, Expedia and Hilton combined. This may, of course, seem like an unfair comparison at the moment– because while teleconferencing is seeing a massive surge in demand, the fortunes of airlines and travel companies are plummeting. Still, Zoom’s meteoric rise is a sign of the times, and an indicator of life in a post-COVID world.

Just to get a sense of exactly how meteoric the rise (and fall) has been, here are some numbers.

Zoom now has a market cap of $31.73 billion. Hilton, on the other hand, has seen its value go to half from $31 billion in January. Similarly American Airlines and Expedia have lost a whopping $4 billion and $7 billion in market cap respectively.

Needless to say, Zoom is not riding this current gravy train alone. Other video conferencing platforms are also seeing a huge spike – Microsoft’s Skype saw a 70% rise in users from a month ago. It now has more than 50 million daily active users, which are more than Zoom’s.

Here’s a look at some global downloads that give a fair idea of the current scenario

Trouble in paradise

Zoom’s steep rise to the top has, unfortunately, come with a huge cost. The very functionality that made the platform easy to use has also left it vulnerable to security and privacy issues. There have been innumerable cases of hackers getting into meetings uninvited – the most infamous one being that of a naked man gate crashing into an online school class. And that wasn’t an isolated incident of someone barging into another meeting – the incidents have been frequent enough for Zoom-Bombing to have become a verb.

Not surprisingly, the company is now facing a severe backlash from privacy advocates, educators and parents and lawmakers. The serious security breaches have led to advisories being issued against the platform. Many institutions have also taken Zoom off their schedules and switched to Microsoft Teams instead.

Some high profile organizations like Space X and NASA have also declared that they’re not using the platform anymore.

Albeit a little late, but Zoom has gone into damage control. The company has hired security experts to look into the flaws and also released version 5.0 with updated security and privacy improvements.

The company also stated that, in light of the incidents, they would be temporarily stopping the development of any new features in order to focus on safety and privacy issues. The company’s founder and CEO, Eric Yuan also apologized to Zoom’s users on a blog post saying that they recognized that they had “fallen short of the community’s — and our own — privacy and security expectations”

Will that be too little too later for the company. Unlikely. There’s no real completion out there yet that makes the experience so seamless. Looks like Zoom will weather this storm for now.

World after COVID

When COVID finally recedes, it’ll leave behind a changed world. Question is, will it be a bordering-on-dystopian world, where connecting on video apps will become the norm, and relationships will move online, and hence lead to increasing loneliness? Or, will people be hit by the existentialist, you-never-know-how-long-we-have feeling and make an extra effort to meet their friends and relatives – that obscure cousin’s wedding that your parents force you to go to might not seem like that bad an idea then.

It’s hard to say what’ll happen in the personal space. In the professional world, however, it’s clear. Paying rent for offices and for people to travel when they can connect on Zoom may not seem that great an idea, especially when a post-Corona world will leave most businesses (the ones that survive that is) with hardly any reserves. Also, once people have seen that their jobs

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Global News and Perspectives


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