Even after we're back sitting around a conference room or going to sessions at Conclave, the Radio Show, or the Worldwide Radio Summit, I believe the video conference will still be with us.
There are unintended consequences that spring out of emergencies and tragedies, and these virtual meetings – especially on Zoom – will still be viable ways to save money, save time, avoid travel, and still bring groups of people together.
And not surprisingly, we're elevating these meetings to a reflection of who we are, how we behave and how we want to be perceived. We shouldn't be surprised. The same thing is happening to face masks.
First, no one would be caught dead wearing one. Then when they became required garb (or at least highly recommended), we started seeing some masks that would have to be thought of as fashion statements.
Like eyeglasses or shoes, the well-dressed person should have a different variety of masks to choose from for virtually all occasions.
Yes, you can make your own mask out of an old T-shirt (not real appealing actually), or you can go on Etsy and buy some pretty hot looking masks. In fact there are thousands of them for you to peruse, many created by craftspeople looking to cash in on this new fashion accessory.
So we shouldn't be surprised the same basic phenomenon is now taking place with video conferences. “You are where you Zoom” pretty much says it all. Just a few weeks ago, you could participate in these meetings from a spare bedroom or any nook or cranny of your residence. But thanks to cable news and livestreaming music, we're now getting a glimpse at the chosen rooms of newsmakers, politicians, musicians, and other celebrities.
And it's revealing and even fascinating.
Last week, Dr. Antony Fauci – self-isolating from the same virus he's trying to wrestle to the ground – was forced to testify to Congress from his home. Anticipation about Fauci's “digs” ran high, and was the focal point of discussion and analysis afterwards.
A story in House Beautiful (which says it all) poked around his home office, admiring his books, his papers, and even something that looked like a combo radio/CD player.
Most of those who chimed in agreed the good doctor's home office was just a little messy, in contrast to how impeccably dressed he always is. But was a peek inside his Zoom room that made this a buzzworthy event.
One of the commenters was a brilliant Twitter account called “Room Rater” and accessible at @RateMySkypeRoom, now closing in on 200,000 followers.
A group called Mad Dog Pac is behind this Twitter page (raising money for hospital PPE), and Claude Taylor and Dr. Dena Grayson, two savvy critics who are strong on the snark.
As the usual suspects show up on television, “Room Rater” goes into action, examining some of the most minute details of their “Zoom rooms.” And it's obvious these guests are now as cognizant of their backgrounds on video as they are their hair and their clothes. And for good reason. “Room Rater” can be especially critical.
— Room Rater (@ratemyskyperoom) May 18, 2020
And then there's this contribution for Michael Tollin, executive producer of ESPN's “The Last Dance,” that many of you will appreciate:
— Room Rater (@ratemyskyperoom) May 16, 2020
Then there's TV commentator and host of Showtime's “The Circus,” John Heilemann, who must be working overtime on his video backgrounds. It's reached the point where there's as much focus on the changing fruit bowl in his kitchen as his opinions on shows like “Morning Joe.”
Obviously, this is a trend. And that means the techies are hard at work, trying to figure out ways to make it cooler. A recent story in CNET by Scott Stein unveils how a new app on Oculus Quest combines virtual reality on Zoom.
While the technology allows for dragons to be dragged into your meetings, the use of of 3D objects allows huge virtual wall screens that all participants can see. The video below shows a meeting Spatial put together with Stein.
OK, so maybe it's a touch over the top for most of us, but is there a radio application?
The BBC has gotten in the game. In fact, they've pulled out all the stops. To get in the spirit of the moment, they're offering 100 video conferencing backgrounds that are actually their empty sets, suitable for sports junkies or fans of BBC hit shows like “Absolutely Fabulous” where you can hang in the same space as Patsy and Edina:
What about local radio stations? Why not provide the backgrounds people are missing the most as the pandemic rages on. That could mean great interior shots from hometown concert and sports venues.
Or it could be photos from inside your radio station – the air studio, the jock lounge, iconic station events and festivals, and other visuals to help make your fans' Zoom backgrounds come alive.
Radio is at its best when it's reflecting the culture of now, the zeitgeist. Face masks, video conferencing, and social distancing are the “new rules” that everyone understands and love to talk about. It's not a heavy lift to take advantage of it.
And while you're at it, clean up that Zoom background. We're paying attention.
Thanks to Steve Goldstein & Bill Jacobs.