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Executive interview: Will video kill the streaming star?

The idea of pre-recording something so it can be watched later is the foundation on which broadcasting and streaming services are built. But for the consumer, the experience is perceived as something that is instantaneous.

In the past, families gathered around a television screen to tune into a favourite programme at the time it was scheduled to be broadcast. These days, on-demand means consumers can choose what they watch and when, irrespective of when the content was uploaded.

With a click of a button, the consumer has the power to select a video on-demand from an ever-growing library. This is the power of streaming platforms. While they currently dominate the entertainment sector, this concept of an asynchronous viewing experience has the potential to revolutionise the distribution of human knowledge in a way that has not been possible since the written word.

Video has been one of Ashraf Alkarmi’s passions for many years. The chief product officer at video-sharing company Vimeo says: “I’ve made a lot of career choices, and as I began doing more video, I realised how engaging it is and how video transforms communication,” he says. “They say a picture is worth a thousand words – imagine what moving pictures can do. Video is a powerful communication medium.”

Alkarmi previously led Facebook Watch at Meta and Amazon’s enterprise-grade streaming service. He started his tech career in set-top boxes for on-demand video and worked in the business-to-business space at Brightcove before moving into business-to-consumer video services.

Doing things better

Discussing his work at Vimeo, Alkarmi says: “First and foremost, it’s about entrenching ourselves in customer problems, solving their pain points. That’s the most exciting thing that teams can look at.”

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words – imagine what moving pictures can do. Video is a powerful communication medium” Ashraf Alkarmi, Vimeo

He says this helps to motivate staff and enables them to see how the work they are doing is enabling customers to do something better. “The way we set priorities and expectations is based on what customer problems we want to solve and how we want to solve them,” he adds.

When it comes to collaboration, while video-conferencing has enabled global teams to connect, these platforms tend to focus on live meetings that occur in a timezone suitable only to one group of employees. This is where asynchronous communication has a role to play, according to Alkarmi.

A pre-recorded video message can be shared with everyone. People can choose to watch the message at a time that is most convenient to them, rather than having to tune into a live video stream that may be taking place in the middle of the night, local time. “People can record a response and share it with the team. This creates a very different collaborative environment,” he says.

AI and analytics

Looking at technology trends, Alkarmi believes the way artificial intelligence (AI) is being incorporated into applications and the experiences AI is now able to offer customers is accelerating.

“It is impossible to deny the fast evolution of AI today,” he says. “I believe by next year, 50% of users will touch some form of augmented AI-driven application, whether it is speech, the written word or computer vision algorithms.”

One area of video that Alkarmi believes is going to see a lot of development going forward is analytics. He says it will be possible to create a more immersive experience for viewers when they are able to search within a video, look at summaries and notes, or skip to a particular section where the presenter is saying something the viewer wants to find out more about.

He says AI can be used in video players to automatically insert chapters into a video, which can help viewers navigate to specific sections quickly.

Leadership and motivation

Looking beyond tech innovations, the current economic climate means many organisations are feeling the pinch. Alkarmi sees a number of significant differences between what is happening now and the banking crisis in 2008. “There are a lot of changes happening. The lifecycle of startups is getting longer – now 10 to 15 years to get from funding to IPO [initial public offering],” he says.

“This is the first time a downturn has been coupled with inflation pressures coming out of a pandemic. How you manage that is simply by focusing on people and keeping your people motivated and excited to solve customer problems”

Ashraf Alkarmi, Vimeo

“This is the first time a downturn has been coupled with inflation pressures coming out of a pandemic. How you manage that is simply by focusing on people and keeping your people motivated and excited to solve customer problems,” he adds.

Alkarmi believes in the importance of having the right leadership team in place to ensure that teams can remain focused on business objectives.

Video’s untapped potential

What is interesting from the conversation with Alkarmi is the untapped potential of video. With budgets being cut, business owners may feel they are unable to justify travelling abroad.

There was a time, not so long ago, when people treated online video conferences as “second best” compared with attending events and meetings in person. But the Covid-19 pandemic showed the power of online video conferencing to connect people, and it is now culturally accepted as often the “best” means of holding a meeting.

Video messages are sometimes seen as a slightly amusing and arguably cheesy way for family members and friends to send greetings, but if Alkarmi is right, such asynchronous video may become a normal part of business communications.

Certainly, it is easier to demonstrate or showcase a new product using a pre-recorded video than attempt a live demonstration online. The only factor is whether the intended audience will download the content in a timely manner, which requires a cultural shift.

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