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Vying for Victory: Video Providers Look to AI

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A woman at working in her home office
Image: nenetus - stock.adobe.com
From yoga classes to church services, much of our world is now virtual thanks to COVID-19 and today’s video technologies. Parents, students, and teachers are dealing with virtual classes and homeschooling, while virtual happy hours have led to the creation of quarantine martinis (Quarantinis). For better or worse, virtual conferences have replaced in-person events and will be the standard for the foreseeable future.
 
Video usage skyrocketed across a range of industries and verticals. Telehealth or telemedicine has replaced in-office doctor visits, with no slowdown in sight. A recent Forbes Insight survey found that 75% of respondents are grateful that they’ve been able to seek medical help via video, with 66% noting that they are likely to continue using telehealth and telemedicine beyond the pandemic
 
Video conferencing and meetings have become the lifeline for businesses and organizations during the pandemic, providing a temporary replacement to in-person interactions. Zoom has become a verb and the Kleenex, or generic term, for videoconferencing (sorry Skype — you had your chance). Unfortunately, Zoombombing, and Zoomhacking have become all too common, along with Zoom fatigue, which often arises from Zoomerangs or back-to-back meetings.
 
Of course, the video phenomenon isn’t limited to Zoom, and companies such as Cisco, Microsoft, and others have also benefited from the video craze. Dialpad recently acquired Highfive to enhance its video offerings, while Verizon acquired BlueJeans in April.
 
The key question is: What will happen once workers can return to the office, students can return to the classroom, and patients can return to the doctor’s office? In many cases, not much will change.
 
Now that we’ve all experienced video meetings, audio-only conference calls pale in comparison. Without the immersive experience of being able to see the other participants, plain-old voice calls seem bland and unengaging. Relationships can be forged or enhanced more easily via video. I’ve truly enjoyed seeing colleagues’ dogs or children through videoconferences in the past few months or spotting items in the background that help to spur connections and more personal relationships.
 
With many people now used to interacting via video, we've come to appreciate the value video provides. Why go to the doctor’s office when you can visit your doctor from the comfort of your own home (depending on the medical situation, of course)? And why travel to meet a client or prospect when you can eliminate the hassle and cost of travel and meet virtually? Of course, video isn’t a replacement for all interactions. Now that we’ve experienced how much can be done using video, we’ll think twice before arranging in-person meetings and appointments.
 
Despite the many benefits, video meetings are far from perfect. We’re all tired of video meetings, and Zoom fatigue is a reality. And how many times a day do you have to tell a colleague to unmute themselves? Clearly, there’s still much work to be done to improve the video meeting experience.
 
Overcoming Video Fatigue
Video vendors recognize the challenges created by the onslaught of video meetings and are finding ways to enhance their offerings with features and capabilities to improve the experience and reduce the stress. For example, several companies have introduced live reactions or emojis to help meeting participants see reactions from others in the meeting, providing more visual cues and immediate feedback to increase engagement.
 
Limiting and reducing distractions that increase stress levels during video meetings — whether background noise or messy bedrooms — has become critical. Many vendors are turning to AI technologies to help reduce or remove audio distractions and background noise such as barking dogs, lawnmowers, or crying babies that interfere with meetings. For example, Cisco acquired Babblelabs, which uses AI to distinguish human speech from unwanted noise and intelligently remove background noise to reduce distractions.
 
While Zoom was earliest to the game, most vendors now offer options for different visual backgrounds for video calls to reduce visual distractions and improve the user experience. Last month, Microsoft introduced Together Mode, which uses AI segmentation technology to place each meeting participant in a virtual auditorium or shared virtual background, helping participants feel more connected to each other. Microsoft also added custom meeting layouts, allowing presenters to customize how content is displayed, including the use of AI green screen technology to overlay the presenter on a PowerPoint slide.
 
Microsoft's Together Mode

Microsoft's Together Mode

 
Zoom improved its custom-background feature by letting meeting hosts set all participants' backdrops and place people in a virtual scene, such as a classroom or a courtroom. The company also announced Zoom Rooms Smart Gallery, which uses AI to create a gallery-view of in-room participants to improve the experience for remote attendees.
 
Highfive’s Show Everyone view allows meeting participants to see up to 12 people on screen simultaneously. When there are more than 12 people in a meeting, participants click the left or right arrow buttons to display more faces. Noting that multiple meetings per day can cause meeting fatigue, Highfive provides the option to Show Everyone or only Show Speakers, which shows up to three participants on screen simultaneously.
 
Expect to see continued enhancements to the user experience in the coming months as vendors strive to improve the meeting experience. AI will play a big role, providing meeting assistants, noise detection and reduction, transcription services, translation services, meeting room scheduling, participant identification, and more. These AI capabilities will be developed either in-house or come from acquisitions.
 
The good news is that while our time spent in video meetings will continue to increase, the experience will greatly improve. Now, if only we’d remember to unmute ourselves…

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This post is written on behalf of BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.

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