Habit-forming. Habit-changing. In a post-coronavirus world.

What are the things that we have come to trust or use implicitly… as a habit?

Let me explain.

Back in the year 2000, I remember going to a VSNL office in Cunningham Road in Bangalore and buying a physical dial-up internet package that contained a booklet and a CD! At that time, we metered our internet usage since we were paying for it by the minute!

Ditto for mobile phone voice calls, text messages and then data on mobile.

Now, all those are things we take for granted and they are always on.

I used to switch on bluetooth on my phone only when needed, to conserve phone battery. These days, bluetooth is always-on, unless I notice very low battery.

Our phone’s location is another thing. We used to worry about unauthorized access to our location initially. Now, with granular controls per-app, it’s always on!

Facial recognition is another! I have used that to enter some office buildings (despite warnings from well-meaning folks about using the data for privacy violation). It works so smoothly and flawlessly (pre-beard, post-beard etc.), and in seconds.

Water-proofing in devices is yet another. I was told by someone recently that they don’t remove their fitness band anymore at all even during a bath!

Given all this, I wonder what would become a norm, or something we absolutely take for granted, post this coronavirus phase? Here are some of my guesses.

1/ The presence of hand-wash/hand-sanitizer in public places: This is already a norm, but I do expect it to be ramped up significantly. Literally like one hand sanitizer pump per table, in restaurants.

2/ Video conferencing: Right now, we switch on and off as per our need, much like metered internet. I expect our behavior to shift where it is always on in the background (at least on a laptop, if not on the phone too) and we use the service as per need, without bothering to switch it on or off. There are privacy implications as well for this, however.

3/ A LOT more contactless money: Exchanging cash by hand, or even giving the credit/debit card at a point of sale and getting it back after use, may come down more dramatically since we may look for more ways to pay without any contact. I also expect brands like Mastercard and Visa to hype their contactless cards even more, in terms of behaviour change of you not handing over your card, but offering to tap it on the shop’s device yourself. The PIN entry will continue to be a bugbear, though (the contactless tap-only works for amounts under Rs.2,000 India without PIN entry)!

Here’s an ad from today’s Economic Times, already harping on contactless money!

4/ Remote education: At least 4 edu-tech or distance/remote education brands have announced about taking their material free (without any charge) to one or more sets of audiences as a result of a break in all kinds of education systems/processes.

Many colleges around the world have also actively announced measures to convert their teaching/curriculum into one that can support remote learning. I expect it to become the norm even after the impact of coronavirus wanes. Having remote access to any kind of education system may become a norm, with more and more schools and colleges actively investing in tools and support systems to enable this. It should become just like thinking about differently-abled people while building a school/college/classroom; to also think about students who can join in remotely.

Here’s a list of other brands (US-centric) that have done something to help students at this juncture.

5/ Direct-to-OTT: Now, direct-to-video is an established category in the US/Hollywood, but not in India. Direct-to-OTT is also a category across the world, on say Netflix or Prime Video, but these movies tend to be made specifically for those platforms. Like Dharma’s Guilty, most recently. I do expect at least one big Bollywood (or any language in India) film to go directly to OTT (with a special pay-per-view model), removing theaters from the equation completely, not by choice, but by force, due to the situation caused by coronavirus’ social distancing. It’s a rare chance to push the boundary with regard to how movies are distributed in India.

The theater lobby has been very effective in not letting direct-to-home first-day releases of movies at all (rightly so, given the employment and revenue generated by the whole theater/mall ecosystem). Right now, there is a 30-60 day gap for a theatrically released movie to get into OTT.

Now is a very rare opportunity to try a different model in movie exhibition in India. The pipeline is ready (OTTs). The payment mechanisms are ready. People are mostly conditioned to watch video on mobile (and on TV, streaming at home). It just needs a test, through a hugely-anticipated, big-budget film, to change our behavior with regards to movie watching.

I fully understand that movies are an ‘experience’ in India; a group experience that involves going out, eating out (popcorn) and immerse yourself in a large screen along with 500 others around you. But if the impact of coronavirus stays longer than what you optimistically believe, at some point, we would be forced to answer the tough question – do you want to release films only in theaters and are willing to wait it out till whatever time, holding on to the romantic notion of the cinema theater group-watching experience‚Ķ or, do you want to explore other modes of movie exhibition thereby releasing the content and getting the revenue in for the industry to stay alive to pay salaries?

Video on mobile has exploded in India. And unlike YouTube, which doesn’t have a payment model tied to it by habit, Netflix, Prime Video, Sun NXT, Zee5 etc. have it by default. There is no reason why any producer needs to release his/her big movie as a free, another-movie on those platforms. Why not charge differently for a brand new movie straight to OTT? Perhaps lower quality (non-HD) streams can be priced differently vs. mobile-only streams vs. HD TV streams etc. Also, per head ticket vs. per household (for TV homes) vs. per mobile streams‚Ķ so many ways to play this.

There are early signs of this trend in the US. Trolls World Tour, a DreamWorks Animation movie which is slated for an April 10th release in the US, will be the first film that would be available both in theatres (where available/playing) and home-viewing!

And Disney has advanced the release of Frozen II on Disney+ by 3 months!

6/ Faster internet: To support all this, you need significantly faster internet speeds. I was in Delhi in the first week of March. And when I casually mentioned that I’m on a 100mbps broadband at my home in Bengaluru, the other person gasped, saying that the best they get in Delhi is 40mbps!

I got an email from my internet provider, ACT on March 12th informing me that they are increasing the speed and also removing FUP limits completely!

Before the virus struck, the world was looking forward to 5G internet. I’m guessing that would become a priority, to support the extra need for faster, better internet access, even as internet access itself becomes a basic right, away from it being a privilege/luxury. That is critical since all these via-internet activities (watching movies, studying, working, calling etc.) depend so much on predictable, fast internet access, more than simply the devices/gadgets needed.

7/ Future-of-work: Combining multiple points above, we may also be building our habits towards a very different future of work and the future of offices. Will Oremus has a fantastic piece on this, on Medium. The most interesting part in that piece: if organizations open up employment potentially to the whole world because they do not have a physical base that hires from the nearby area/city/state, that changes everything in how we think of companies and work!

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