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Netflix, FaceTime, Zoom, Xbox, and Uber Eats — The tech that got us through 2020

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

This article was first featured in Yahoo Finance Tech, a weekly newsletter highlighting our original content on the industry. Get it sent directly to your inbox every Wednesday by 4 p.m. ET. Subscribe

During the Spanish Flu of 1918, people didn’t have Zoom

To say that 2020 was a year like no other is an understatement. The coronavirus pandemic shuttered huge swaths of the economy, cost people their livelihoods, and distanced us from our friends and family.

But unlike prior generations that have dealt with such catastrophes, we’ve had the benefit of technologies that have let us see and talk to our loved ones, watch the latest movies, play games with friends, and, for those lucky enough, work from home without issue.

From streaming services, to video chat platforms and a slew of online games, all the way to the humble laptop, these technologies helped us get through an otherwise unbearable year.

Video chat platforms

For many people, video chat services, like Yahoo Finance’s Company of the Year Zoom (ZM), helped them stave off the isolation of state- and city-wide lockdowns. Zoom happy hours, birthday parties, weddings, and holiday dinners proliferated in 2020, connecting people to loved ones, albeit virtually.

I’ve spent more time on my couch next to my wife talking to friends, having drinks, and playing card games on Zoom than I thought was possible at the start of the pandemic. And I know I’m not the only one. In December 2019, Zoom reported having 10 million daily meeting participants, but that number jumped to 300 million by April. Its stock price has gone through the roof to match, rising 392% year-to-date as of the close of markets on Dec. 29.

BUCKINGHAMSHIRE, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14: Twin sisters, daughters of the photographer, enjoy a Zoom party for their fourth birthday, on May 14, 2020 in Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom. The prime minister announced the general contours of a phased exit from the current lockdown, adopted nearly two months ago in an effort curb the spread of Covid-19. (Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)
Twin sisters, daughters of the photographer, enjoy a Zoom party for their fourth birthday, on May 14, 2020 in Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom. Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images)

And with coronavirus cases surging across the country, chances are Zoom, as well as competitors including Google Meet (GOOG, GOOGL), Apple FaceTime (AAPL), and Facebook Messenger (FB), will see plenty of use throughout the winter months when it’s tougher to gather outdoors.

Streaming services

I’m likely not alone when I say that I’ve left a near-perfect mold of my backside on my couch from streaming hundreds of hours of movies and TV shows throughout the year. “Tiger King,” “The Mandalorian,” “The Queen’s Gambit,” “Lovecraft Country,” and dozens of other shows and movies provided the necessary escape we all needed.

Netflix reported adding 26 million (NFLX) global subscribers in the first half of 2020 compared to just 12 million in the first half of 2019. And just a year after launching, Disney reported that its Disney+ streaming service had already amassed 73.7 million paid subscribers as of November.

The shutdown of movie theaters due to coronavirus restrictions meant studios were forced to either delay their films or launch them on streaming services, leading Disney (DIS) to debut “Mulan” and “Soul” on its platform, while Warner Bros. launched “Wonder Woman ‘84” in theaters and on HBO Max (T).

There’s little doubt theaters will eventually see a comeback when consumers feel more comfortable venturing out in large crowds. But the pandemic has reinforced the fact that some people also want to see big releases in the comfort of their own homes, without spending $50 on popcorn and soda for a family of four. And some studios are listening.

Warner Bros. has already announced that its entire slate of 2021 films will stream for a period of a month after their release. How many other studios follow suit is still an open question.

Video games

The video game industry is already one of the biggest forms of entertainment on Earth. But the coronavirus pandemic sent gaming into overdrive. With little to do, consumers, like yours truly, turned to games to keep them occupied turning titles like “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” and “Among Us” into international phenomena.

MOSCOW, RUSSIA - 2020/12/10: Store employees wearing face masks and gloves display game discs on the shelves. Cyberpunk 2077 is a 2020 action role-playing video game on sale worldwide. In Russia it has become the most anticipated game in 2020. (Photo by Alexander Sayganov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Store employees wearing face masks and gloves display game discs on the shelves. (Photo by Alexander Sayganov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In August, Nintendo reported that its operating profit for its first fiscal quarter grew by an outrageous 428% year-over-year, driven by a 166% increase in hardware and a 123% increase in software sales. In its second quarter, operating profit grew by 209%.

Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox content and services revenue, meanwhile, was up a whopping 65% in the company’s fiscal Q4 2020 ending June 30 and 30% in its fiscal Q1 2021 ending Sept. 30, despite the fact that the company was preparing to launch its Xbox Series X console in November.

Sony, for its part, saw its software revenue blow up by 83% year-over-year in July. And its newly released PlayStation 5 console is already sold out around the world.

According to IDC, global video game revenue is expected to rise 20% in 2020, topping out at $180 billion, and pushing the gaming industry well ahead of both the movie and live sports industries. And gaming isn’t expected to slow down. With new consoles, and mobile gaming continuing to grow, the industry will continue to see gains going forward.

Online ordering

Online ordering, including e-commerce like Amazon (AMZN) and food services like Grubhub (GRUB) and Uber Eats (UBER), thrived in 2020. Amazon, which became a go-to for people trying to avoid crowded stores, saw its net sales increase 40% in its fiscal quarter ending in June, with the company saying grocery delivery tripled, though it didn’t break out exact numbers. In its fiscal quarter ending in September, net sales increased 37%.

On the food delivery front, Grubhub saw its fiscal second quarter group food sales jump 59% with $2.3 billion in gross food sales. Uber Eats, which has become a lifesaver for Uber as its cab service revenue plummeted, took off by 135% year-over-year in its fiscal Q3.

Alcohol delivery also saw an enormous increase at the start of the pandemic, with delivery company Drizly seeing a 537% increase in sales on the platform and new user signups rising by 900% as the pandemic took off in the last week of March. I may have accounted for a few of those orders, too.

Desktops and laptops

It wasn’t long ago that we were talking about the slow decline of computer sales, but the pandemic, and the increasing shift to remote work, has propelled sales again.

According to Canalys, the global PC market grew by 13% in the third quarter, the most growth the industry has seen in 10 years. Notebooks and mobile workstations, which have become a must-have thanks to their webcams for video chat, also exploded in growth by 28.3%.

That’s a massive change for the industry. Heck, there’s even been a run on webcams, which according to the BBC, were in short supply as late as July, and consumers were still trying to find them as of December.

What’s to come in 2021? Likely more of the same, at least until a vaccine is widely distributed. So get your couch ready, put on a nice shirt and sweatpants, and get your thumbs ready for games.

By Daniel Howley, tech editor. Follow him at @DanielHowley

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Tech Support

Yahoo Finance’s Daniel Howley answers your most pressing questions about the various gizmos, gadgets, and services you use in your everyday life. Have a question of your own? Reach Dan on Twitter at @danielhowley or email him at dhowley@yahoofinance.com .

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