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When One Door Closes: What Twilio’s News Means for Video Development Platforms

Oliver Hargreaves Dec 13, 2023 5:31:39 PM

Last week, Twilio announced they will be shutting down their Programmable Video service and the whole video SDK industry is still reeling from the news.

What does it mean that a top tier provider has chosen to exit the space? Are other WebRTC platform companies in trouble? Is video not the answer to how people want to connect? These are just some of the questions I’ve been asked over the last week.

Each of these questions assumes the worst about the direction of the programmable video industry. In all fairness, we are conditioned to assume the worst. However, I see Twilio’s decision as the start of an exciting journey for every other video platform company, an opportunity to bring more flexibility and creativity back into the applications being built by businesses around the world. 

I have been a part of the WebRTC ecosystem for two and a half years and during that time I have consistently heard three companies called out as the de facto leaders in the space: Twilio, Agora and Zoom. Each of these companies saw their best days in 2021 when video streaming became a “can’t live without” feature for businesses and people across the globe. These companies were able to take advantage of the immediate need but have been frozen in time since then.

These companies have been critical in bringing WebRTC-based streaming into the public eye and have allowed a number of companies to create video-centric products from which millions of people benefit. However, it is time to get back to the core of what a development-centric solution should be: stable, yes, but also flexible with room for plenty of innovation. 

These large companies offer one thing over all else, consistency. Think of a box of Cheerios. The cereal is in a cute heart shaped bowl with a few strawberries sprinkled in to add some color and a banner trying to convince you that Cheerios are the secret to a healthy heart. In actuality, a bowl of Cheerios is what you grab in the morning when you forgot to go shopping the day before. It will fill you up and give you energy to start your day but it is not special and it certainly does not come with a wow factor.

Looking at what the aforementioned three companies offer, I feel the same way as when I look at that box of Cheerios. If I need to build a basic video streaming application on the web, iOS, or Android and I don’t need to add a bunch of flashy features, their solution sounds great. I know they will consistently deliver a stable platform for my application, but how does that make my application stand out?

I think we should be pushing out of this cookie cutter basic use case and start building amazing customer applications that leverage video in new and unique ways. We should be on the cutting edge of adding video from the real world into the metaverse, we should be stitching videos together for 180 degree fields of view for teachers to provide more immersive learning experiences, and we should be finding ways to connect more people with unique experiences that positively impact their lives.

Zoom fatigue is real and when we build lifeless, boring applications, users recognize that and using the applications feels like a chore. Our goal is to unburden people when they use our video based applications. It is up to innovative companies looking to solve difficult and unique problems to drive our industry forward.

So while the news of Twilio has disrupted the space, I am hopeful that this opens the door to innovation and I urge each video platform company to collaborate with their customers in 2024 to reinvent how we use video in both business and our everyday lives.