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Rapid growth in key high demand industries will continue to mature and prove valuable in 2021

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/oatawa)

When people made their 2020 resolutions, no one could have predicted the way that the world would drastically shift. Fueled by the surge of critical industries such as eLearning, telemedicine, and streaming events from concerts to church services, this new virtual requirement kept the nation as we knew it churning forward

As a real-time communication platform used by these types of services, PubNub has seen significant growth as a result of Covid and the resulting quarantine orders world-wide. As companies have increasingly had to shift to operating virtually, our customers have seen an increased demand for services like virtual live events, telemedicine, gaming, and eLearning industries.

The sudden shift to most people staying and working from home has caused traditionally tech-hesitant industries to realize the importance of remote communications and experiences.  The healthcare sector has quickly learned that they need to shift towards telemedicine to keep patients healthy and engaged in their care. We have seen this shift reflected in the usage demand from our customer base. Customer’s such as MaNaDar,, Babylon Health, and Apollo Hospitals have all seen upticks in their usage. In fact, PubNub saw a 200 percent network user growth in the healthcare segment from March to May 2020 as leading U.S.-based telemedicine companies and hospital systems have come inbound with the intent of building real-time healthcare applications.

Growth in the events and entertainment sectors has been the most interesting, as a new industry has emerged to transform live events—such as sports, concerts, church services, and fitness classes—into virtual, remote events. Even the 2020 presidential debates aren’t immune to this shift, as our customer LiveLike hosted them on their live events platform this year.

Virtual events growth

So what do these changes mean for the future of these industries? We predict that while the initial surge in adopting remote-first technologies was in direct response to the global shutdowns these services and tools will continue to stay integrated as part of the long term strategy of industries like healthcare, education, and even virtual events like concerts and corporate conferences will continue to maintain a virtual presence.

Taking a look at the initial usage surges for each of these industries in early 2020, these tools and services will continue to grow and evolve in features next year:

eLearning - eLearning experienced one of the fastest rates of growth for any industry leveraging our network. Within the first two weeks of school closures, some of our eLearning customers experienced significant usage growth of over 450 percent. Unsurprisingly, many continue to grow, with usage increasing by 75 percent as the school year closed in May/June. Some eLearning providers will see a short-term usage decline as more children return to school, yet Covid has solidified edtech as a high-growth category.  Educators have received a crash course in eLearning, and edtech has improved offerings quickly. The school shutdowns have accelerated access to underprivileged families, unlocking eLearning more equitably across all demographics.

2020 required that educators embrace a  better understanding of eLearning best practices.  Educators proved they can successfully educate students remotely and that the quality of learning doesn’t suffer by moving from in-person instruction to a virtual classroom. 2021 will see more tools that facilitate learning, in and out of the classroom, including virtual whiteboards, live webcasts, slideshows, live quizzes and instant feedback/grading. We’ll start seeing more schools with a “remote-first” mindset, teaching students around the world through an at-home internet connection. ELearning will continue to play a critical role as part of a normal curriculum, as online chat, real-time quizzes and feedback, and interactive whiteboards for student projects continue to be beneficial.

Live events

Telemedicine - In 2020, online healthcare services experienced  massive growth and quickly became the new frontline in medical services. By tracking our network usage, we saw an average usage uptick around 40 percent for all digital healthcare providers directly after the shutdowns in March.  Some of our individual telehealth customers even saw their usage spike anywhere from 100 percent to over 1,000 percent as more patients signed up for their apps. Even after the initial adoption wave, from March to May telehealth providers saw an additional average usage uptick of 104 percent as medical offices remained closed.

With both patients and staff not wanting to risk in-person office visits, virtual provider appointments became crucial for consultations, checkups, and prescriptions- not just for large facilities and hospitals, but also for family care providers. We foresee that telehealth will remain at the frontlines of healthcare as the first touch point for routine checkups as well as acute symptom checking. Telemedicine offers the utmost convenience, so patients are no longer forced to take time out of their day to travel to and from  in-person appointments for simple check ups, such as prescription refills or mild cold and flu symptoms.

Live Events - Our network usage for virtual events grew 224 percent from March to September 2020. Audiences want to feel immersed in a shared experience that connects them to others,  that’s why televised sporting events include the sound of the crowd and why sitcoms have laugh tracks. Virtual live events can take this one step further by allowing audiences to engage with each other in real time—whether through voting, sending reaction emojis, or by chatting with fellow viewers. These spontaneous, real-time reactions allow audiences to feel like they’re truly engaged with and influencing virtual events. 

Remote-first here to stay

While events are all about the experience of meeting and seeing other people, the world is finding that corporate events can still be valuable as virtual events, and even concerts can maintain their allure with interactive features such as live chat with other fans. When possible, demand for virtual sporting events and musical concerts and festivals will decrease when in-person events are possible again, however the corporate world will continue to explore the time and money saving route of virtual conferences going forward. For large venues, virtual events will also continue as part of the ticket sales process, where attendees can get access to keynotes and sessions either live or on-demand for a discount.

As more live events seek to develop immersive, virtual experiences for audiences in this new remote era, the platforms and applications that host these events need to:

  • Let viewers chat in-app privately, in groups, with hosts, or at the audience level to make virtual events feel just as lively as in-person ones
  • Capture the energy and engagement of in-person events by adding reactions, polls, leaderboards, and other social features that allow audiences to participate in real time
  • Scale effortlessly to support millions of users without concurrency or latency limits

Virtual spaces across all major industries have proved their worth in 2020, and it will be no different in 2021. Technologies that power remote-first experiences and communication will remain an ingrained part of our everyday lives, like seeking high-quality healthcare, or flexible learning and teaching options for students and educators. While the exponential growth we’ve seen in 2020 will likely not continue, we don’t expect to see a massive drop of usage for these valuable services as we continue to see that virtual experiences and interactions can often be just as rewarding and impactful as in-person ones.

Todd Greene, Founder and CEO, Pubnub

Todd most recently was CEO of Loyalize, an Audience Participation company successfully sold to Function(x) (FNCX), a Robert F.X. Sillerman company, where he designed the first-ever massively multi-user Social TV mobile and web applications licensed to companies like Viacom and Yahoo. Todd previously was founder and CTO/VP Products of CascadeWorks, a company providing Services Procurement solutions to Texas Instruments, Charles Schwab, and ABN Amro, and acquired by Elance. After working with companies like GE, SGI, and Quantum while a consultant at Price Waterhouse, Todd joined NetDynamics (sold to Sun Microsystems in 1998) to help create a truly game-changing product: the first application server built for the Internet.