Agora announced this week that it would be investing $100 million into real-time engagement applications and tools, touting the technology as an important step forward in a more digitally connected world.
Executives from Agora and dozens of others spoke at the company's RTE2021 conference this week, touting the ways real-time engagement technology has gained prominence, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With millions stuck working and learning from home, Agora said there had been an explosion of interest in using real-time engagement for everything from healthcare services to gaming, educating and even working.
The technology's growth in usage has coincided with the emergence of metaverse tools that seek to create digital worlds where people anywhere can congregate, share and collaborate online.
Agora CEO Tony Zhao said the disruption of the pandemic prompted people to seek out more natural interactions with one another, and he noted that many people are now tired of simple video connections.
With real-time engagement, people have been able to create a slate of new tools, applications and solutions. Zhao said internal Agora data has shown that there is an explosion in demand for mental health services as well as more social entertainment, gaming services and even fitness applications that can be accessed any time, anywhere.
He noted that demand for telemedicine services grew by more than 4,000% last year, and real-time engagement helped healthcare officials simulate physical visits to doctors' offices. New metaverses also allowed people to work and learn together from across the globe.
Zhao cited the success of Tribe XR as an example of the value real-time engagement can provide. Tribe XR CEO Tom Impallomeni explained that the technology has allowed them to create a virtual world where DJs and music producers can practice, play and perform for digital audiences.
They use virtual reality systems to simulate DJ equipment and help people learn how to DJ through VR headsets.
In partnership with Agora, the company now offers a way for users to upload music and perform on Twitch, Youtube and through integration with other metaverses.
Agora's real-time engagement platform has helped Tribe XR create a video calling system where teachers and performers can connect with audiences from any device without using VR.
"Real-time engagement technologies take people off their isolated islands and out of their silos, connecting them together in a more natural and meaningful way. From New York to San Francisco, to Bangalore to Dubai, physical distance is no longer an obstacle," said Reggie Yativ, COO of Agora.
Teachers have created applications that allowed them to reach thousands of students in real-time through the Agora platform. In contrast, entrepreneurs and activists have been able to use interactive audio streaming and live casting to create chatrooms, hold live panel discussions and participate in events.
Everything from sing-a-longs to dates, cooking, and shopping can be done using real-time engagement platforms.
One of the biggest areas real-time engagement is seeing interest in is gaming. Barbara Pickering, head of innovation and technology at HP, spoke at length about the HP Omen gaming division, which has been hard at work on Omen Oasis, part of Omen's gaming hub software.
Pickering said HP is working with Agora to combine gaming experiences with video streaming. Although platforms like Twitch and others have become popular, many gamers only want to share video streams with a small group of friends as opposed to a wider, one-way audience.
With Omen, gamers can communicate through video, watch each other play through games and hang out together.
Pickering said it has been difficult to facilitate because streaming and video sharing during games is demanding, requiring high-quality rendering and fluid motion.
"Our challenge is to bring gaming to a communal space akin to watching someone play an arcade game over their shoulder," Pickering said, adding that real-time shared and interactive experiences have become a huge business. More than 60% of gamers want to share their gameplay with other gamers, but most only want to share it with a group of 20 people or less.
"Gamers often want to share with their friends and for the experience to be interactive. For that, you need a real-time solution. Agora wants to make streaming real-time, with latency in the milliseconds, and the investments they've made in backend infrastructure and proprietary algorithms to optimize network traffic, and video streams have helped as Omen Oasis seeks to expand the gaming experience to be even more socially engaging beyond the typical multiplayer dynamics," Pickering noted.
"With Oasis, we're providing a really simple interface for people to jump into social game sharing with a focus on audio and video sharing."
Agora said real-time engagement is also being used by mental health platforms like Talkspace as well as workout platforms.
Edward Brakus, senior vice president of product at Agora, touted their software-defined real-time networking -- called SD-RTN -- that enables developers to scale quickly and deliver fluid real-time media delivery.
"The network adaptive streaming architecture combines variable-bitrate streaming technology with proprietary logic that provides the best media experience for every user," Brakus explained, noting that the tool is designed to build experiences for a wide variety of devices, video processing speeds and WiFi connections.
Brakus said Agora wants to make it easier for developers to use the company's API for an expanded set of use cases.
With the API and SD-RTN, developers will have the ability to publish multiple streams from any device, control streams of subscriptions, expand their channel management capabilities and have access to advanced layout controls that support sophisticated video display management as needed for virtual events and education use cases, Brakus said.
"The ability to democratize access to RTE technology and to accelerate time to market for developers is another area where Agora continues to invest," Brakus added, noting that the Agora App Builder has seen a massive amount of interest.
People have built video experience platforms and even flexible classroom tools to facilitate online learning applications.
Agora's extension marketplace also features dozens of fun tools that can be added to apps like face filters, voice filters and content moderation tools.
Virginia Liu, senior vice president of ecosystems at Agora, said the company plans to invest $100 million in the RTE ecosystem, hoping it will continue to "change how we work, live and play in the future."