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All Zoomed out?

Hands up if you are getting fed up with Zoom? A little-known video conferencing application has grown over the past six months to become that rarity; a brand name that is so well know that it becomes a verb. Previous examples include Uber, Google and Hoover - but it’s a pretty small club.


But despite the extraordinary numbers – revenues up 355%, customers up by 548% and projected revenues of $2.3bn – I think the novelty of Zoom (plus Teams, Skype, Facetime etc) is beginning to wear thin. Particularly when being used as a means of non-essential communication.


Since March, work for millions of people has meant sitting in front of a screen engaging in slightly stilted conversations with colleagues, clients and prospects. Peering at other people’s living rooms, analysing lockdown wardrobe choices and chorusing ‘you’re on mute’ was fun for a while, but now video conferencing is the norm, its shortcomings are becoming a pain.


In an HD world Zoom’s video and audio compression rates seem very analogue, more like wireless crystal set by comparison. And while it’s undoubtedly convenient and a massive boon to overcome lockdown, video-conferencing is not something you would choose to do.


TV News channels were early adopters of the technology. It was easy and cheap to do a Skype call with a remote guest rather than send a crew, satellite truck and book a feed. There were times when the technology was ideal, enabling live broadcasts from inaccessible and hostile locations. But a poorly framed, badly lit down the line Facetime interview with a guest was always a difficult watch - even in the pre-Covid era.


Necessity has once again proved to be the mother of invention. The past six months have seen all manner of events recreated as online gatherings, Webinars, Zoom chats, virtual conferences and remote Q&As filling the networking and meeting void. But choosing to watch yet another glorified Zoom call when you spend the majority of your day in that environment is a tough ask.


BBC and Sky News producers are actively seeking alternatives to Zoom quality clips. Regular listeners to the Today programme are increasingly annoyed by shonky quality online calls which drop out mid-interview. This was always a risk in live radio, but now it’s becoming normal. Presenters and producers must be tearing their hair out – forced to use phones as a more reliable alternative.


And for podcasts – one of the success stories of lockdown – the need to produce decent quality, well-edited audio is more apparent than ever. Louis Theroux’s Grounded series on BBC Sounds has been a big hit topping most of, the slightly unreliable, podcasts charts. In it he sets out quite clearly why a podcast was the obvious format for lockdown – but also why just recording Zoom call audio won’t do. By using quality microphones to make local recordings of his guests and a proper editor, the finished product is easily as good as a studio recorded podcast.


The format or the platform should never distract from the message. The more you ask your audience to put up with poor audio quality and erratic or non-existent editing, the more likely they are to give up. There is a direct correlation between the interest value of the subject matter and people’s willingness to put up with poor quality. Millions have watched the amateur cine film of the Kennedy assassination, but not because of its technical or artistic merit.


In these trying circumstances, it remains more important than ever that we should keep communicating and finding new ways to do so. But while a laptop screen filled with blurry faces may well come to be a lasting image of 2020, it is possible to do much better.


We are all tired of this pandemic, the lack of variety and the hours spent cooped up at home. Zoom conference calls are a daily reminder of this incarceration – a successful podcast should be a welcome respite.


To find out how to turn your Zoom content into professional podcasts email me adam@adambatstone.co.uk