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Zoom has a plan to dominate the virtual events industry

When COVID hit, everyone raced to figure out how to turn all their events virtual. Now Zoom wants to win that industry, too.

OnZoom discovery page

With OnZoom, Zoom wants to make a one-stop shop for virtual events.

Photo: Zoom

Conferences, workout classes, graduations, cooking lessons. In 2020, they've all had one thing in common: They happen over video chat. Mostly over Zoom. The virtual event business has become a crucial one for many who used to rely on in-person interactions, and many believe it's not going to go away even when the pandemic does. Companies and creators are discovering the reach they can have with virtual events, and are leaning further into them.

Zoom, as it continues to embrace being more than a space for business meetings, is launching its bid to own this new market. It announced OnZoom, its new virtual event platform, on Wednesday at its Zoomtopia conference. (Held, of course, over Zoom.) The platform's launching in public beta for U.S. users immediately, with a broader launch coming next year.

OnZoom attempts to consolidate what has become a teeming, sometimes complicated market for virtual events. Companies like Airbnb and IRL want to be the directory of those events; RSVPify and Eventbrite and Stream want to sell tickets. Apps like Shindig and Hopin are trying to create virtual events that don't just feel like really big virtual meetings. A whole generation of "Zoom for X" startups — Zoom for presentations, or Zoom for school, or Zoom for a party — is cropping up, too, each trying to carve out their own slice of the video-call experience.

If one company were to try and own the whole experience, Zoom's the most likely candidate. Wei Li, Zoom's head of platform and AI, said the company built OnZoom as a solution to this sprawling new industry. Right now, she said, event hosts are "forced to manage many different apps and tools to market their events, schedule their events, engage with their customers, collect payment, and conduct business analytics. And event attendees have to deal with even more apps and platforms."

OnZoom, on the other hand, handles everything in one place. Its website offers a sortable, searchable list of upcoming events; it integrates with PayPal to collect money (Li said more payment providers are coming, but she declined to specify which), and gives hosts all kinds of information about their attendees and ticket sales. It's even taking on some of the content-moderation work, Li said, using AI moderators. "We're committed to providing users with a welcoming, respectful place to share their voice." All that, and hosts' classes and events still happen on Zoom just as they always have.

During the public beta, Li said Zoom won't take a cut of ticket sales. (It'll even cover transaction fees for events meant to benefit nonprofits.) In the long run, though, it presents an interesting strategic decision: Will Zoom take a small cut, or none at all, and use the platform to continue to shore up Zoom's market share? Or does it see OnZoom as its next big revenue stream, and plans to use its current dominance to rake in the cash?

Either way, it's clear that Zoom sees its chance to become something more than "the best place to video chat." It spent the early days of the pandemic just trying to keep the service running, and then a three-month sprint trying to fix a litany of security issues. But now it's back on offense. The company also launched Zapps, a new tool developers can use to embed their apps — notes in Dropbox, whiteboards from Miro, that sort of thing — right into their Zoom calls. Ross Mayfield, Zoom's product lead for integrations, described it as "bringing an app store actually into the meeting experience."

There's a risk here for Zoom in overextending itself. Zoom fatigue is a real and growing phenomenon, and while virtual events will continue to thrive, it remains to be seen what they'll look like when there are other options again. Meanwhile, with Teams and Meet and a dozen other video apps growing fast, too, developers may not be keen to build specifically for Zoom. But Zoom's the biggest name in the game and is attempting to seize its moment.

For years, Zoom's plan was to put Zoom into everything, developing integrations that always made it simple to start a Zoom call. Now that Zoom has become an indelible constant in the lives of millions of remote workers, it's inverting the plan. You're already in Zoom all day, it says; why not do more while you're in there?

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