Aaron Shapiro

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Video Finally Killed Photos

June 11, 2020

We all have a need for connection. This essential human truth, coupled with the pandemic, has ushered in the third major transformation in how people use technology to connect.

The first shift was digital text. The emergence of the internet gave us the triumph of digital text over analog communications vehicles. Email, chat and websites beat faxing, snail mail and magazines when it comes to forming a connection.

The second revolution was the emergence of images as the preferred way to share. Mobile made images ubiquitous, feuling the rapid rise of Instagram and the belabored shift of other social platforms to be more photo-centric. This revolution also brought us emojis, another example of images steadily replacing text.

Which brings us to today, and the third major transformation in how we connect: video. Thanks to the pandemic, video has finally hit critical mass. Video communicates more information than text, photos or audio, so it was inevitable that it would one day replace all three. While video usage has grown unabated since YouTube, it has always been hampered by it being difficult to create (at an acceptable speed and quality). And, because video is less impactful than connecting with someone in-person, it was slow to get adoption for many use cases. Then came Covid.

The pandemic, by increasing the friction associated with in-person interaction, changed the cost-benefit ratio of switching to video for different tasks. All of a sudden, video wins across all the ways we connect:

  • Communications: The pandemic didn’t just end the in-person meeting and replace everything with Zoom. It has also killed the phone call and conference call. Remember when it was weird to Facetime someone? Now, it is increasingly rude to communicate with someone when video is turned off. Human interaction has become rapidly asynchronous thanks to Apple Messages and Slack and massively synchronous thanks to video. Everything in the middle (email, phone) is on life support.
  • Social: TikTok--the first-truly video-centric social network--hits the mainstream, thanks to its ability to streamline video creation and discovery. The other social networks rush to follow.
  • Entertainment: The recent exponential growth of streaming services has finally made at-home video the preferred way to consume stories. The demise of movie theaters and other live performances is the obvious victim (sure they’ll come back, but will they ever be as popular?). But what’s been less obvious has been the decline of high-quality production at the expense of low-cost fare. ‘Television’ has shown us that high-quality, time-intensive and expensive production values are often overrated. In many cases, home-shot video is more intimate, human and therefore more compelling than so many polished productions. Witness the endless stream of Zoom reunions, celebrities cutting out the middlemen with self-produced fare such as John Krakinski’s Some Good News, and late night shows like SNL or John Oliver shooting from home. Entertainment is becoming cheaper to produce and better, because we feel like we have more connection to the personalities we love. Look for a lot more content produced, with many fewer entertainment companies in the middle.
  • Advertising: The pandemic upended advertising: with in-person selling gone, video became the next best thing, and that means cheap video and lots of it, all tailored to messages that resonate to you. Ever notice how many YouTube ads have a distinctly UGC feel? Guess what: they often perform better than their Madison Avenue-produced slick counterparts. As with entertainment, in advertising, intimacy and authenticity are increasingly beating big splashy production budgets.
  • Movements: Black Lives Matter became, overnight, the largest protest movement in the history of the United States. At a time when in-person idea dissemination is more difficult than ever, a single video became the catalyst for a movement. Twenty million people became instantly connected, part of something bigger than themselves.

Look to the democratization of video impacting every sector of our economy. It’s the next wave of disruption.