When we last heard of Zoom, the company was reeling from a failed attempt to acquire Five9 and aggressively expand into the customer support space. I speculated that the company might approach the CCaaS-CPaaS (Cloud Communications-Communications Platform-as-a-Service) strategy either boldly via another merger target, or perhaps gradually via the development of internal technologies.
However, after licking its wounds and seeing the fleeting mirage that is a return to pre-pandemic office labor standards and mass in-person events, the company seems determined to turn Zoom into a distributor and manufacturing platform for unprecedented meetings and highly produced online events. Proof of this is a financially insignificant but technically significant acquisition Zoom made during the holiday interregnum when most people were still recovering from eggnog-induced greed.
Zoom as a video production platform
Integrated in a longer blog post from December 27 on “the future of eventswas the news that Zoom has acquired a small software company, Liminal, which few (it was unknown to me) outside of the video production world have heard of. Indeed, Liminal is so small, with only five employees, Zoom did not disclose financial terms other than noting that Liminal’s co-founders have joined the company. Zoom characterized the case this way (added emphasis):
With virtual and hybrid events here to stay, users will need the best tools to professionally produce their programs and performances online from anywhere in the world. As part of our ongoing efforts to deliver these solutions, we are pleased to announce that we have recently acquired certain assets of Liminal, a start-up company that offers event production solutions based largely on the Zoom SDK . … Liminal’s solutions, including their ZoomOSC and ZoomISO apps, will help connect Zoom with traditional and emerging event control apps and hardware to help theaters, broadcast studios and other creative organizations meet complex technical production needs, and collaborate and create online efficiently.
here’s how The founders of Liminal expressed their goals for the Zoom platform (added emphasis):
ZoomOSC and ZoomISO have transformed the way producers run their Zoom meetings and integrate advanced HD video input into their workflows. Now we join the Zoom team to pursue a larger vision — to elevate virtual and hybrid events to new levels, directly addressing the needs of the event and broadcast industries. …By bringing our production solutions and services under Zoom ownership, Liminal’s technology will significantly enhance Zoom’s event management and production offerings.
Born out of the pandemic, Liminal transformed Zoom into a media server for video producers using specialized mixing, switching and editing applications. After researching its products and watching numerous instructional videos from CEO Andy Carluccio, I am convinced that Liminal punches above its weight by filling a niche between video conferencing and production software. Thus, the acquisition is likely the signal for broader strategic moves by Zoom in 2022.
Zoom Events now and in the future
As I’ve detailed here, Zoom is leveraging the financial and customer acquisition windfall it reaped from the rush as organizations emptied offices for the benefit of the WFH, resulting in the replacement of meetings and in-person events through videoconferences and online webinars. Indeed, the question in my February 2020 column seems oddly innocent in retrospect, because yes, online events are now the norm and by conveniently mixing mass live streams with asynchronous recordings have become an extremely efficient format for broadcasting some information. As the austerity and limitations of first-generation video meetings gave way to highly-produced presentations with interactive chats, live Q&As, and downloadable annotations, fewer people outside of the sales schmooze masters and Corporate marketers see reason to bear the pain, cost and wasted period of massive corporate events.
Zoom expanded into this market last May by overview of Zoom events which he says “combines the reliability and scalability of Zoom meetings, chat, and video webinars into one complete solution.” The product, which starts at $890 per year for 500 attendees, augments the core Zoom platform with features designed for organizers like an event hub, registration and ticketing system, statistical reports on attendance, revenue and other metrics , multiple sessions with social networks per session and a public directory of events. Events also include behind the scenes, a virtual green room for speakers, panelists and production staff for private discussions, public Q&As and conversations before going live.
Zoom Events had its first big test, welcoming 34,000 attendees and nearly 300 speakers for its Zoomtopia conference in September. Zoom does not yet detail revenue by business segment or product category, but its latest third quarter 2002 results (see Derek du Preez’s coverage here) showed strong growth in business activity. Revenue for large companies spending more than $100,000 a year – precisely Zoom Events’ target customer – increased by 94% while the revenue share of small customers with fewer than 11 employees fell 4 points to 34% .
Liminal – fusion of the Zoom platform with video production systems
Some key limitations when using Zoom in video production are the inability to remotely control participants’ video and audio streams and connect them to a programmable control panel like Elgato Stream Deck, a video switcher like the ATEM or a MIDI controller. This is where Liminal’s products come in.
- ZoomOSC adds Open Sound Control (OSC, a MIDI-like replacement that transmits over USB or UDP/IP (Ethernet, wireless) to allow Zoom to connect to OSC-compatible hardware controllers, production software, and media servers (including cloud instances).ZoomOSC is programmable to allow automation of sequences of events that can be pinned to external controllers to enable actions such as pinning selected participants to spots on a multi-source gallery, triggering video switching effects on production software or fading audio inputs into our output.
- ZoomISO turns Zoom into a virtual input source for video production software by generating individual video outputs for each meeting participant. These are exposed using the siphon (frame sharing protocol between Mac applications) or NDI (IP video streaming protocol) and can be sent to a virtual mixer, switcher or media server. When used with ZoomOSC, video producers can assign Zoom participants to individual ISO outputs, providing great flexibility in editing, gallery compositing, and video effects.
- Streamweaver can transport standard control protocols such as OSC over IP networks to enable remote control of lighting, sound, and video effects over a Zoom event.
These products can transform a pedestrian Zoom meeting into a highly polished event. For example, a UNH video producer streamlines the workflow for managing Zoom webinars using ZoomOSC with QLab software and a Stream Deck controller. Prior to the event, attendees see a slideshow with a countdown and music. Qlab sends a chat message to alert attendees 30 seconds before the start and attendees also receive messages reminding them to turn on their camera and microphone. The meeting operator controls video streams, slides and music via programmed Stream Deck buttons, which allow quick switching between the main video projector between the speakers. To see a similar example, look at this Liminal instructional video.
Between the acquisition of Liminal and previous investments in Cvent, event consultant and service provider, and American Express International Business Travel, a business travel management company, Zoom is set to significantly expand its online events portfolio and capabilities. These position Zoom to capture what will likely be a significant amount of event spend from its existing Zoom Meeting customers as it becomes a one-stop-shop for producing and delivering professional video online.
Although Liminal’s products are available “for the foreseeable future”, expect that to change as they are absorbed by Zoom Events, in the form of a mix of basic features and purchasable add-ons. . Much like Zoom’s failed attempt to enter the customer support market, its improved events platform differentiates Zoom from larger horizontally integrated rivals in enterprise video conferencing like Microsoft, Google and Cisco ( webex). However, Zoom still faces significant challenges from well-capitalized competitors like Adobe (Connect), Verizon (BlueJeans), LogMeIn (GoToWebinar), and smaller niche players.
Despite being late for many organizations, in-person work isn’t going away, so I expect Zoom to address hybrid meetings and events through new features and by increasing its Hardware Zoom Rooms partnerships to include products, such as those mentioned above, used in video production and management. In summary, expect to see further improvements in the quality of video meeting production in 2022 as organizations continue to adapt to a virtual world.