‘Phygital interactions’ could become the norm post pandemic
Live online audio/video is at the centrestage of a trillion-dollar industry that includes meetings, conferences, exhibitions, concerts, webinars, classrooms, consultations, networking, messaging, chat, social media, and now clubs and audio chatrooms. Growing rapidly before Covid-19, it hit escape velocity once the world came to a standstill as people were locked in their homes. What started as an emergency tool, soon became the dominant method of getting things, which work best with some form of intimate interaction, done.
A new dawn
As lockdowns ease across the globe — notwithstanding the virus and its mutants — and more people get fully vaccinated, the world is highly unlikely to go back to the old ways of doing all of the above. Instead, unique hybrid models are expected to co-exist in future. While the inefficiencies of physical interactions such as access, distance, cost and safety will be partially eliminated by digital platforms, the need for social intimacy, tactile interactions and a deeper personal connect will drive the new physical experience. ‘Phygital interactions’ and ‘hybrid workplaces’ will become the new norm as people make judicious choices about when to meet offline as against online, to get important stuff done in the most efficient ways. The rapidly increasing comfort with live online audio/video across all economic and social strata means lesser barriers to its adoption as a regular practice.
As with all new technologies, some industries will be impacted more than others. Any industry that is centred around physical interactions between people will be disrupted first. Sectors like manufacturing and agriculture will experience the least impact, but would end up using some of these digital communication technologies to their benefit. Sectors such as travel and hospitality which took the biggest hit due to pandemic-induced lockdowns, will experience a renaissance of sorts. The business travel industry is likely to get diminished to some extent due to cheaper, faster and more accessible ways of doing business digitally; but will be more than compensated by its leisure counterpart as people seek to escape from their home-work-home environment and experience the physicality of travel and new destinations.
At the centre of this reset are a host of virtual audio/video platforms. Online meeting software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet are no simple apps today. They are a part of and an extension of multi-application collaboration and productivity platforms which are reimagining the future of work, education, healthcare and entertainment, potentially disrupting multi-trillion-dollar traditional models in these sectors. They have all grown between 10-30 times in the last 18 months. While the growth rate will taper down significantly after the multiple step-ups last year, to a more modest 40-50% over the next five years, eventually settling at 10-20% over the long term, these platforms are here to stay. Live online audio has allowed start-ups such as Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces (built on top of the core Twitter platform) to craft a new niche in the social interaction and entertainment space.
While it is impossible to imagine the final shape some of these platforms will take, the initial response is more than promising to encourage high-growth seeking investors to pump in money behind them.
Clubhouse recently raised $4 billion in a Series C round, while Zoom zoomed to a market cap in excess of $100 billion on the back of its recent hypergrowth. They are both here to stay along with their more fancied large competitors who will hustle to launch similar platforms or buy out the incumbents. In either case, each will evolve further and inspire a slew of new entrants to expand and leverage new ways of interaction, which will ultimately blend into the traditional, rather than substitute it completely.
The author is managing partner, BOD Consulting