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The Societal Impact of Streaming During COVID-19 - and What it Means for the Future

"As we look to the future of e-learning, school systems will continue to leverage and experiment with these platforms in creative ways. Today, most school districts and universities are discovering new ways to integrate e-learning into their lesson plans." -Nigel Burmeister, VP of Product, Limelight Networks

The pandemic has turned our world upside down, forcing us to find new ways to connect and conduct daily activities. Streaming video has emerged as much more than an entertainment medium - now a means of uniting the world, providing the tools needed to learn, work and access information. This has sent streaming skyrocketing with Nielsen data revealing viewership has increased 85% during COVID-19.

Going forward, how will streaming continue to connect our world? When we look at the state of education, business and healthcare systems, it's impossible to operate without it. Online video is powering new ways to function in this new normal, changing how we learn, work and access information.

Powering New Education Opportunities

Every day more school districts and universities announce they are remote for the fall semester and some go so far as the next academic year. This has forced many education systems to turn to e-learning, allowing teachers to continue classes from a safe distance. Before COVID-19, schools primarily used e-learning platforms as a supplement to their normal curriculum. Some teachers would prepare an in-class lesson and send students home to expand learning through online video courses or homework. At the university level, institutions have opened up the option of online-only classes for years. However, the pandemic has pushed e-learning into the forefront, becoming the sole educational resource for students.

As we look to the future of e-learning, school systems will continue to leverage and experiment with these platforms in creative ways. Today, most school districts and universities are discovering new ways to integrate e-learning into their lesson plans. The opportunities are endless: we will see more schools transition to using these services during severe weather, while universities may add new online learning options to expand accessibility for students who cannot afford to move to their city. Regardless, we can expect to see online video play a major role in the future of our education system even when in-person interaction increases.

Driving Business Collaboration

In addition to keeping kids home from school, the pandemic has pushed corporate America to adjust to working from home. For many Americans this was the first time they worked from home - according to the How Video is Changing the World report, a third of people said their employer offered the ability to work from home for the first time during the pandemic.

Online video services are helping fill a void when it comes to collaboration and communication. Workplaces are leveraging video-driven collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom to drive a sense of employee interactivity and connection, virtually. In fact, video conferencing platform Zoom reportedly reached 200 million users per day in March.

These video applications are removing barriers by allowing workers to connect face-to-face, share ideas and strategize projects. But beyond that video sessions are going above just collaboration but helping to instill a sense of normalcy - making people feel like they’re in a conference room rattling off ideas rather than in the confinements of their homes.

Aside from strictly team or department engagement, live streaming is enabling organizations to open the floor up to their workforce and discuss business or market changes driven by COVID-19. By ditching email updates and holding staff meetings, training sessions and webinars online, companies can streamline communication while keeping their workforce educated and supported. It goes without saying that communication is essential right now and the ability to continue company-wide meetings or even just virtual lunches and coffee chats with coworkers is empowering people to persevere through it all.

Empowering Safer Healthcare Communications

The coronavirus outbreak has also brought the future of telehealth into the spotlight. In fact, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have temporarily allowed changes in government-provided healthcare to include telehealth services. These virtual healthcare platforms are feeling the demand with one platform citing usage surging by 650 percent or more in regions most impacted by COVID-19.

With these live online video services, doctors are “seeing” patients virtually while keeping both parties as safe as possible. In this post-COVID world, it’s expected that people will continue to take advantage of telehealth services, especially as residual concerns with entering doctor’s offices (and all other public spaces for that matter) resume.

Past one-to-one appointments, online video has also become a critical means to receiving news on the healthcare industry, progress of COVID-19 and, most importantly, strides to stop the spread. For the healthcare industry and the public, it’s imperative to stay up to date with the latest news and regulations. Health organizations and the government are working together to keep the public as informed as possible and online video is allowing consumers to have an archive of easily accessible information. While press conferences are widely available via live-stream on various sites, such as the White House’s YouTube channel, to ensure everyone has access to this critical information, no paywall involved. The most beneficial aspect of these additional viewing options is they’re proving to be a reliable means of reaching large sections of the population and improving our access to information.

Online Video is the Future - But Only If Internet Infrastructure Is Ready to Support it

In these difficult times, online video allows us to create a new normal by staying engaged and connected with schools, workplaces, healthcare professionals, governments and communities. With this, it’s also brought a heightened awareness to the digital divide. For rural communities without a strong internet connection, online learning or working from home has not been easy. Accessing the internet and downloading online video isn’t something many households even think twice about, but the infrastructure in underdeveloped communities is falling behind because they lack strong enough internet connection to stream this content. Now more than ever, it’s critical that internet service providers and tech vendors come together to build better internet infrastructure that makes online video services accessible to everyone, everywhere, any time.

We’ll continue to depend on online video as we settle into this new normal. From an entertainment perspective, live sports are back; however, it’ll take some time before we see people crowding tailgates and stadiums again. Online video technology can step in here to bridge this gap of experience by providing immersive, interactive streams that make fans feel like they’re safely part of the action.

Beyond entertainment, streaming will continue to be a key factor in keeping us all grounded. People need human interaction and services like Zoom or FaceTime give us this ability while keeping us safe. All these factors highlight that video is becoming our hub of information, connection and normalcy, making it crucial we work toward minimizing the digital divide.

Limelight Networks is a leading provider of digital content delivery, video, cloud security, and edge computing services.