• Thursday, Apr. 15, 2021
Autodesk rolls out Flame innovations
NDI video preview streaming is a key Flame update

Autodesk has unveiled more than 40 user-driven improvements to Flame that simplify the artist’s day-to-day and boost creative collaboration. Building on machine learning (ML) capabilities that address specific tasks in Flame, this update brings ML to Flame’s core toolset in the form of next-gen camera tracking technology. The new camera tracker delivers remarkable automatic camera solves and 3D geometry output in a matter of minutes. Artists also gain a more robust finishing toolset for color grading through FX and editorial, in addition to Network Device Interface (NDI®) video preview streaming for seamlessly sharing work remotely with creative stakeholders around the world. 
 

With the latest update, Flame artists can now experience:

  • Nex-gen camera tracking: Using cutting-edge scene reconstruction algorithms similar to autonomous vehicle smart ‘vision’ and reality capture-type point cloud reconstruction, Flame’s new camera tracker ‘auto masks’ or ignores moveable objects like people, cars, bodies of water, and skies, and focuses the solve on the static scene environment only, so that artists no longer have to spend time manually masking out moving objects to get a reliable result. In many cases, the new camera tracker provides artists with a one-click solve, delivering high-quality results with over 5,000 points in a fraction of the time it would take using traditional workflows.
  • Integrated finishing toolset: A new creative look up table (LUT) loader lets users import an external file-based LUT or color transform from a wide variety of file formats (.3dl .cube .ctf .ccc) directly inside Action and Image toolsets, and apply the ‘look’ to the entire picture or part of it. Additional enhancements include broadened GMask Tracer functionality, expanded support for industry-standard tactile colorist control panels (Arc, Element, Wave 2, Ripple, Element-Vs), and Blackmagic RAW media compatibility.
  • NDI video preview streaming: Artists can now share high-quality full screen video with creative stakeholders remotely, either over a closed network or public internet, using any NewTek NDI® receiver software or device for a virtual experience akin to an in-person, over-the-shoulder review session. The new feature is also compatible with webcasting software like OBS Studio and streaming services like YouTube Live, Facebook Live, and Twitch.

“2020 proved a year unlike any other for the media and entertainment industry, and although the pandemic introduced new challenges, we saw the creative finishing community come together to find new, innovative ways to continue working and deliver high quality content. Inspired by their resilience and adaptability, we’ve been listening to customers to evolve the Flame toolset so that it can help meet both current and future needs of artists,” shared Will Harris, Flame family product manager, Autodesk. “The latest updates to Flame--including new ML-powered camera tracking, an integrated finishing toolset, and enhanced support for remote workflows--are a direct reflection of these efforts and feedback from the Flame community of artists.” 

“Flame has brought forth some fantastic features that I’m very excited to bring to my VFX workflow, including the update to the camera tracker, which will be a game changer. The ability to generate geometry from point clouds and leverage machine learning in order to accomplish more consistent and powerful results is also a leap that I’m so excited for,” shared VFX supervisor Bilali Mack. “The new NDI workflow for client work and generally sharing my work in Flame with clients and other artists will be of tremendous help. It is a much needed addition as we shift to remote workflows, and BMD format support as a BMPCC4K owner is very welcome as filmmaking and VFX continues to become more accessible to us all as storytellers.”  

  • Monday, Apr. 12, 2021
Filmotechnic USA unveils Flight Head 6S
Filmotechnic's Flight Head 6S
LOS ANGELES -- 

Filmotechnic USA, provider of high performance camera car systems to the entertainment industry, has added the new Flight Head 6S to its award-winning fleet of stabilized remote heads, arms and camera car systems. Advanced features of the 6S are incorporated into the history-proven stabilized platform of Filmotechnic’s original Flight Heads.

John Urso, Filmotechnic USA’s head of sales, said that the 6S pushes the filmmaking envelope. “It’s got an unlimited 360 roll axis with HD-SDI slip ring, new joystick console and the latest electronic design.” 

Engineered for silky smooth shots with precise camera control, the 6S, continued Urso, virtually eliminates vibration and unwanted shakes during rough, fast camera moves. He added, “The latest GPS auto horizon assures rock solid horizon in high-G turns. The 6S also offered unmatched flexibility and reliability, it’s good-to-go on a variety of regular and telescoping camera cranes, dollies, camera cars, quad bikes, helicopters, cable cam rigs and other Mitchell mount platforms. Guiding it all are ergonomically engineered joysticks and handwheels for responsive, exact camera positioning.”

The 6S features an intuitive touch-screen display, quick release camera plate and lens drives interfaces for Canon and Fujinon lenses. The 6S Flight Head accepts the majority of motion picture and broadcast cameras. It can be set up in underslung/overslung configuration, in both wired or wireless modes. Its design allows for the fast mounting of fully rigged cameras without the need for moving any of the accessories. The 6S head with handle payloads of up to 122 pounds.

  • Wednesday, Apr. 7, 2021
AI tech company DGene opens operation in L.A.
Jason Yang (l) and Helena Packer
LOS ANGELES -- 

DGene, a Silicon Valley and Shanghai-based developer of AI technology, has launched operations in Los Angeles. The company is creating software and services that leverage artificial intelligence and computer vision for entertainment content creation. DGene offers proprietary solutions for virtual production, visual effects, digital restoration, volumetric and holographic capture, and the creation of virtual actors and digital influencers.

DGene is led by Jason Yang as chief technology officer and Helena Packer as sr. VP. Yang is an MIT-trained computer scientist, DGene co-founder, and a former sr. manager at semiconductor company AMD. Packer is a veteran film and television visual effects supervisor, whose credits include X2: X-Men United, 21 Jump Street, and Charlie Wilson’s War.

Yang and Packer have assembled a team of computer scientists and engineers specializing in computer vision, computational photography, computer graphics, machine learning, and related technologies. The U.S. operation will also tap into the extensive development and R&D resources of DGene, China, which has produced groundbreaking AI solutions for companies such as Alibaba, Tencent, and China Mobile.

According to Yang, DGene seeks to work with studios, streaming services, visual effects studios, and other creative partners in using AI-driven technologies to accelerate workflows, reduce costs, and create new forms of visual content. “We offer solutions that simplify routine aspects of visual effects production, film restoration, and virtual production,” he said. “We also have tools that facilitate the production of breakthrough content, such as virtual actors. AI is no longer a technology of the future; it is quickly becoming integral to many aspects of content creation.”

DGene is currently working with Academy Award-winning cinematographer and visual effects pioneer Richard Edlund on a scripted series involving historical figures. The technique could lead to virtual actors and holograms that act and communicate like real people.

Additionally, the company is partnering with Hollywood-based MTI Film to apply AI-based tools to film restoration. It has created proprietary AI algorithms for restoring color and sharpness, image stabilization, dust and scratch removal, and many other common processes. Similar tools could be used to simplify visual effects compositing and virtual production.

DGene is a provider of volumetric capture in China with its own proprietary solutions for 3D reconstruction, making it possible to capture performances and environments from multiple perspectives and convert them into 3D assets, viewable from any direction. It also has developed technology to stream holograms in real-time, an application that could be used for concerts and other live performances.

Packer said that AI technology will bring fundamental change to diverse aspects of production. “Visual effects, color correction, green screen, and digital restoration have not advanced significantly in decades,” she explained. “There have been incremental improvements, but nothing disruptive. AI, on the other hand, represents true change. It is a huge leap forward.”

DGene was founded in 2016 by a group of leading innovators in computer vision, computer graphics, and artificial intelligence. It is supported by Shanghai Alliance Investment Ltd, Alibaba, GSR Ventures, SAIF Partners, IDG Capital, and Chobe Capital.

  • Monday, Apr. 5, 2021
Supreme Court sides with Google in copyright fight with Oracle
In this Oct. 5, 2020, file photo the Supreme Court in Washington. The Supreme Court is siding with Google in an $8 billion copyright dispute with Oracle. The justices sided with Google 6-2 on April 5, 2021. The case has to do with Google’s creation of the Android operating system now used on the vast majority of smartphones worldwide. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- 

The Supreme Court sided Monday with Google in an $8 billion copyright dispute with Oracle over the internet company's creation of the Android operating system used on most smartphones worldwide.

To create Android, which was released in 2007, Google wrote millions of lines of new computer code. But it also used 11,330 lines of code and an organization that's part of Oracle's Java platform.

Google had argued that what it did is long-settled, common practice in the industry, a practice that has been good for technical progress. And it said there is no copyright protection for the purely functional, noncreative computer code it used, something that couldn't be written another way. But Oracle said Google "committed an egregious act of plagiarism," and it sued.

The justices ruled 6-2 for Google Inc., based in Mountain View, California. Two conservative justices dissented.

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote  that in reviewing a lower court's decision, the justices assumed "for argument's sake, that the material was copyrightable." 

"But we hold that the copying here at issue nonetheless constituted a fair use. Hence, Google's copying did not violate the copyright law," he wrote.

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in a dissent joined by Justice Samuel Alito that he believed "Oracle's code at issue here is copyrightable, and Google's use of that copyrighted code was anything but fair."

Only eight justices heard the case because it was argued in October, after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg but before Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court.

The case has been going on for a decade. 

Microsoft, IBM and major internet and tech industry lobbying groups had weighed in, in favor of Google. The Motion Picture Association and the Recording Industry Association of America were among those supporting Oracle.

The case is Google LLC v. Oracle America Inc., 18-956.

  • Sunday, Apr. 4, 2021
What Biden's new $100B plan for broadband means
In this Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 file photo, Kelly Mack works on her laptop to teach remotely from her early 1940s vintage camper/trailer in her backyard at home in Evanston, Ill. Even though the federal government has spent tens of billions of dollars to close the digital divide, tens of millions of Americans still aren’t online. The Biden administration has now broached a big number, $100 billion, in an effort to get all Americans connected. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The problems with U.S. broadband networks have been obvious for years. Service costs more than in many other rich nations, it still doesn't reach tens of millions of Americans and the companies that provide it don't face much competition.

Now the Biden administration is promising to do something about all of those issues as part of its proposed $2.3 trillion infrastructure package. The plan, which would devote $100 billion to get all Americans connected, is more idea than policy and lacks a lot of important detail.

But it sketches out a striking new vision of activist government measures intended to improve high-speed internet service, following decades in which the government has largely left the job to private companies.

WHAT IS BIDEN'S PROPOSAL?
It would spend $100 billion to "future-proof" broadband as part of an eight-year infrastructure plan, calling high-speed connections "the new electricity" that's now a necessity for all Americans. (For history buffs, that's a reference to the Rural Electrification Act — Depression-era legislation that sped the extension of power lines to farms and rural communities.) 

It could signal a major policy shift toward lowering the high cost of internet service, rather than just handing money to broadband providers for building out networks. "Americans pay too much for internet," the plan bluntly states.

It pushes for greater competition that could lower prices, by encouraging and supporting networks owned or affiliated with local governments, cooperatives and nonprofit organizations. Currently, roughly 20 states restrict municipal broadband. Prioritizing such networks could give them a leg up when the government doles out money for extending service.

"The most important thing about what President Biden has done in the proposal is that he's redefined the digital divide," said Larry Irving, a top telecom official in the Clinton administration. "The simple act of recognizing that poverty is a bigger indicator of lack of access than geography is a huge statement."

It's not clear how the Biden administration plans to bring that about. 

WHY IS THIS NECESSARY?
The pandemic has made clear that millions of Americans are not online, a problem that  isn't limited to rural areas but includes cities too. The White House says more than 30 million Americans don't have access to high-speed internet at all, and millions more can't afford it. 

The divide persists even after the government has spent billions encouraging broadband providers to connect far-flung and often isolated communities. From 2009 through 2017, federal spending on such programs totaled $47.3 billion, according to a government watchdog report. An additional $20 billion is lined up over the next decade for rural broadband, and another $9 billion for high-speed wireless internet called 5G in sparsely populated regions. Billions more flowed to broadband from the three huge relief packages enacted during the pandemic.

America's rural-internet policy has been an ongoing mistake, said Gigi Sohn, an official in the Obama-era FCC. "A lot of what we have is very slow," she said. The White House now says it wants "future-proof" networks "in unserved and underserved areas," so they don't have to be rebuilt again years later because they're out-of-date. 

Exactly what those terms means for what gets built and where isn't clear, either, and many Republicans oppose putting federal funds to work in areas that do have internet even if it's slow — what's called "overbuilding." 

WILL CONGRESS SUPPORT THIS PLAN?
The $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan has its detractors. Some Democrats are disappointed because they wanted more. On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called it a "Trojan horse" for tax hikes. 

Internet access is a bipartisan issue, but Republican leaders of the House and Senate Commerce committees called Biden's approach on broadband wasteful.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the Republican ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Biden's plan would "hurt private investment in our networks without actually closing the digital divide." She called for trimming regulations on building infrastructure to help prompt investment. Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the Republican ranking member of Senate Commerce, said the proposal "opens the door for duplication and overbuilding." 

Congressional Democrats have recently introduced major broadband legislation of their own, including a $94 billion bill  from Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority Whip, who both said they approved of the White House's approach.

WHAT DOES BIG BROADBAND SAY?
Republicans' concerns echo those from industry. The cable lobbying group NCTA said the White House "risks taking a serious wrong turn ... by suggesting that the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet." The NCTA also said it was worried about price regulation. The Biden document does not mention price controls.

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of the lobbying group USTelecom, said that prioritizing investments in government-owned broadband is "exactly the wrong approach" since taxpayers will get the bill if such networks fail. He also claimed that broadband prices are already falling. 

The Labor Department says pricing for telephone services, which includes internet plans along with phone service, has dropped about 7% over the past decade. Internet service costs, which include things like web hosting, have risen 2%. A think tank with a lot of tech-industry funding, New America, says prices are higher in the U.S. compared with Asia and Europe.

  • Wednesday, Mar. 31, 2021
"Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" with Cooke Lenses
Kristen Wiig (l) and Annie Mumolo in "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar" (photo by Cate Cameron/courtesy of Lionsgate)

DP Toby Oliver, ACS and director Josh Greenbaum selected Cooke Optics Anamorphic/i Standard and Special Flair (SF) prime and zoom lenses to tell the story of best friends Barb and Star who leave their small Midwestern town for the first time to go on vacation in Vista Del Mar, Florida, where they soon find themselves tangled up in adventure, love, and a villain’s evil plot to kill everyone in town. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar was written by its two lead actors, Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, who also wrote the 2011 hit comedy Bridesmaids.

When it came to selecting a camera and lens combination, Lionsgate decreed that the image quality and resolution be the same as Netflix requirements — 4K. “That decision meant that we couldn’t use a regular ARRI Alexa camera that only goes up to 3424x2202 resolution. So, we had to find a 4K camera. We eventually decided to use Sony’s Venice camera loaded with the latest firmware update, so that we would have the most available features enabled,” said Oliver. “When it came time to selecting the lenses for the project, Josh made it very clear from the beginning that he wanted to shoot in anamorphic 2.39 to capture the vistas in the film.”

For his kit, Oliver had the Cooke Anamorphic/i primes in 25mm, 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 65mm MACRO, 75mm, 100mm, 135mm, and 180mm focal lengths for the SF coated lenses. He also had the Anamorphic/i 35-140mm 4x zoom.

Oliver said, "What I really like about Cooke lenses is that they are not overly harsh. They give you ways to take the digital edge off the cameras.”

  • Wednesday, Mar. 31, 2021
"Outlier" deploys Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, DaVinci Resolve Studio
A scene from "Outlier"
FREMONT, Calif. -- 

Independent feature film Outlier was shot on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K and posted in DaVinci Resolve Studio. The film was produced during the COVID-19 pandemic with limited cast and crew.

Trapped in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend James (Logan Fleisher), Olivia Davis (Jessica Strayer) is able to flee with the help of a kindly stranger, Thomas (Thomas Cheslek). Soon Olivia’s fear from past traumas begins to extend to Thomas, who claims he only wants to keep Olivia safe. But as she discovers Thomas is hiding a mysterious project from her, Olivia convinces herself she must flee once more, even if she knows she isn’t safe on her own. With no good choices, Olivia must face her fears to escape her past.

Filmmakers Nate Strayer and Isabel Machado-Rodriguez had decided to escape the pandemic in 2020 by relocating back to a family home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The plan was to quarantine with family, yet as filmmakers they had little patience to wait for the world to open back up before they produced a project. “After a long discussion about first feature films, budgets involved and what it would take for us to make a film sometime in the future,” said Strayer, “we decided ‘why not do it now while we have all this time?’ That night we all sat down as a family and started brainstorming what locations we had access to, and what types of stories we could tell using them.”

The result was the screenplay for Outlier, a thriller designed not only around available locations near their Michigan family home, but also limited cast and crew. With Strayer as director and Machado-Rodriguez as cinematographer, the two decided to shoot the project entirely on their Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K. “The idea that we could shoot a feature film that looks just as good as the films we love, on a tiny, lightweight, relatively inexpensive camera seemed too good to be true,” said Strayer. 

Later, for reshoots, with Machado-Rodriguez unavailable, Strayer brought in long time collaborator and cinematographer Joe Failla to finish out the film. No stranger to the Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, Failla was excited to continue the photography with the camera.

The process of starting the edit in DaVinci Resolve Studio while shooting made the most sense. Mike Hugo edited in DaVinci Resolve Studio. And Ryan McNeal at RKM Studios did the final grade using Resolve Studio.

  • Tuesday, Mar. 23, 2021
Japan spends millions on technology for absent Olympic fans
In this Nov. 17, 2020, file photo, IOC President Thomas Bach looks at the empty stand during a visit to the National Stadium, the main venue for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Tokyo. Tokyo Olympic organizers and the IOC on Saturday, March 20, 2021, announced a ban on fans from abroad attending the the games, which open on July 23. (Behrouz Mehri/Pool Photo via AP, File)
TOKYO (AP) -- 

Japan's top telecommunications company is getting 7.3 billion yen — about $67 million — in taxpayer money to design mobile tracking software to curb the spread of coronavirus infections during the Tokyo Olympics.

There's one catch: Few Olympic fans from abroad will be around to use it.

Tokyo Olympic organizers and the IOC on Saturday announced a ban on fans from abroad attending the the games, which open on July 23.

NTT Communications Corp., a group company of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. and a domestic sponsor of the Tokyo Games, heads the consortium developing the app in multiple languages that is set for release in June.

Domestic sponsors have contributed a record of $3.5 billion to the local organizing committee, a total about three times larger than any previous Olympics. Contributions have been driven by giant marketing company Dentsu Inc., the official marketing partner of the Tokyo Olympics.

Like other skeptics, opposition lawmaker Kanako Otsuji has said the app is a waste of money.

"When there will likely be no spectators, is this the time to be designing an app for fans? The Japanese government has failed over and over in digital innovation, but it's going to have success with this new app?" she said on her YouTube channel last month.

Users are to download the app in their cell phones so their whereabouts can be monitored with satellite technology.

In theory, it tracks infections. But it all must be done in good faith and is effective only if people use it honestly and diligently to record their health conditions and warn others of outbreaks.

The NTT app costs nearly 20 times as much as an earlier glitch-plagued tracking app, called Cocoa, for "COVID-19 Contact Confirming Application," offered free to the Japanese public last year.

Japan now restricts people from entering the country because of the coronavirus pandemic, except for some essential travel and returning citizens.

NTT Communications declined comment, referring queries to the government.

Tokyo-based NTT, founded in 1952, has boasted of close ties with the Japanese government. It's now embroiled in a sprawling corruption scandal centered around lavishing entertainment on ministry bureaucrats that oversee telecommunications.

Tokyo is officially spending $15.4 billion to prepare for the Olympics, but several government audits have suggested it's at least $25 billion. All but $6.7 billion is public money.

While the pandemic has added to the costs, there will be few tourists to boost local coffers.

In 2019, the year before the pandemic hit, Japan raked in a record 4.8 trillion yen ($44 billion) from nearly 31.9 million tourists visiting from overseas, mostly from China and South Korea.

In contrast, international travelers to Japan last year, including foreign residents and families of Japanese, dwindled to 4.1 million people, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization. No money figure was available. Domestic tourism has also fallen to about half the previous year's levels.

Japan has attributed about 9,000 deaths to COVID-19 but has barely started to roll out vaccines.

Marina Nakano, spokeswoman for the Japan Cultural Expo, a government-backed program set up especially to drum up tourism during the Tokyo Olympics, acknowledged cultural events pegged to the upcoming Games are still undecided.

Events, set for last year, were canceled, postponed or moved online.

Nakano is hopeful that once things return to normal, tourism might come back and her efforts to push Japanese culture will pay off in the long run.

"The plans all had to be drastically changed," she said.

  • Wednesday, Mar. 17, 2021
Foundry brings machine learning into Nuke 13
LONDON -- 

Foundry, creative software for the media and entertainment industries, has released Nuke 13.

Kicking off the next series of Nuke releases, Nuke 13  introduces a flexible machine learning toolset, a new Hydra 3D viewport renderer and extended monitor out functionality, enhanced workflows for collaborative review, Python 3 support, and much more. 

The Machine Learning Toolset allows artists to harness the power of machine learning directly in Nuke 13. Developed by Foundry’s A.I. Research team, it enables artists to create bespoke effects with a high-quality result in relatively little time.  Applications of this flexible toolset include upres, removing motion blur, tracker marker removal, beauty work, garbage matting, and more.

Key components of the machine learning toolset include:

  • CopyCat - an artist can create an effect on a small number of frames in a sequence and train a network to replicate this effect with the CopyCat node. This artist-focused shot-specific approach enables the creation of high-quality, bespoke models relatively quickly within Nuke without custom training environments, complex network permissions, or sending data to the cloud.
  • Inference - is the node that runs the neural networks produced by Copy Cat, applying the model to your image sequence or another sequence.  
  • Upscale and Deblur - two new tools for common compositing tasks were developed using the ML methodology behind CopyCat and open-source MLServer. The ML networks for these nodes can be refined using CopyCat to create even higher-quality shots or studio-specific versions in addition to their primary use for resizing footage and removing motion blur.

Nuke 13.0 also includes the introduction of Hydra support within Nuke’s 3D viewport, offering a higher quality image much closer to Scanline Renderer’s output, enabling artists to work closer to their final image. Using hdStorm for rendering also provides a more consistent experience to other applications using Hydra. 

Introduced in Nuke 12.2, Sync Review has been extended to support syncing of editorial actions as well as playback and annotations. Now fully supported in Nuke Studio, Hiero, and HieroPlayer, Sync Review offers a new way to collaborate on review remotely and share the vision of the final image.

Christy Anzelmo, sr. director of product, Foundry, commented, “This release presents the biggest step forward for artists using Nuke. Nuke 13.0 combines what we’ve learned from studios over the last year by introducing new technologies that expand what’s possible within Nuke while maintaining the creative workflows and technical control that artists love. With the new machine learning toolset, we are putting the power of machine learning directly into the hands of artists as they can now create bespoke tools to enable them to stay creative, while also addressing the most common VFX challenges for creating high-quality shots.”

Thiago Porto, VFX and compositing supervisor, said, “I believe CopyCat will change the way VFX artists work. A shot that previously took me three days to create can now be completed in just a few hours.”

  • Monday, Mar. 1, 2021
Zoom posts big quarter even as subscriber growth slows
This April 18, 2019, file photo shows a sign for Zoom Video Communications ahead of the company's Nasdaq IPO in New York. Zoom’s astronomical growth is tapering off along with the pandemic. That's raising questions about whether the videoconferencing service’s immense popularity will fade as more people return to classrooms, offices and other places off limits for the past year. The deceleration emerged in an otherwise impressive quarterly earnings report released Monday, March 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
SAN RAMON, Calif. (AP) -- 

Zoom's astronomical growth is tapering off along with the pandemic, raising questions about whether the videoconferencing service's immense popularity will fade as more people return to classrooms, offices and other places that have been off limits for the past year.

The deceleration emerged in an otherwise impressive quarterly earnings report released Monday. The stellar results capped a year in which Zoom's name became synonymous with the way millions of people have been forced to gather in online video panels while being corralled at home.

Although Zoom continued to enjoy robust gains from November through January, its subscriber increases were significantly smaller than in each of the previous three quarters that unfolded during pandemic life.

Despite that widely anticipated slowdown, both Zoom's quarterly earnings and revenue easily topped analysts' projections, as did management's forecast for the February-April period and the upcoming year. Those numbers helped lift Zoom's stock price by nearly 9% in Monday's extended trading, still leaving the shares well below their highs reached last autumn.

The deceleration in subscriber growth, which began late last summer, is causing some investors to fret that Zoom won't be able to sustain its momentum as more people get vaccinated and life starts to revert to pre-pandemic patterns later this year. 

Those concerns are the main reason Zoom's once soaring stock price has dropped by about 30% from its peak reached last October. If the rally in Monday's extended trading is replicated in Tuesday's regular session, Zoom's stock will still be worth more than five times what it was at the end of 2019.

Zoom finished January with 467,100 customers with at least 10 employees that were paying for the subscription version of its service. That was an increase of 33,400 customers from the previous quarter ending in October, far below the gains ranging from 63,500 subscribers to 183,500 subscribers in the previous three quarters of operation during the pandemic.

"Zoom has had an amazing year, but all good things must come to an end," said Nucleus Research analyst Trevor White. "The fundamental problem remains, however: Zoom is not going to be able to keep up with the growth that it has seen."

Even so, Zoom is far larger, more profitable and better known than it was before the pandemic upended society and turned its videoconferencing into staple. The San Jose, California, company now has nearly six times more subscribers than it did a year ago while its annual revenue that has quadrupled to $2.65 billion during the past fiscal year.

In its most recent quarter, Zoom posted revenue of $882 million, more than quadrupling from the same time in the previous year. The company turned a profit of $260 million in the last quarter compared to $15 million during the same period in the prior year.

Realizing that the demand for videoconferencing won't be as great after the pandemic is over, Zoom has been introducing other features such as an internet phone service for voice-only calls in hopes of bringing in more money. The company disclosed Monday that the phone service now has 10,700 customers, most of whom also subscribe to its videoconferencing service.

Chief Financial Officer Kelly Steckelberg said she believes videoconferencing will remain a key communications tool for most people who latched on to it during the pandemic.

"As we progress to the world reopening, people have now integrated it into their lives in the way they work, in the way they learn, the way that they socialize," Steckelberg told The Associated Press in an interview. "That is not just going to change."

With $4.2 billion in cash and a still-valuable stock, Zoom also now has the wherewithal to expand into other areas through acquisitions, said Third Bridge analyst Scott Kessler. Steckelberg acknowledged the company is "constantly looking at opportunities" to expand.

Zoom also is counting on many businesses to hold on to their videoconferencing subscriptions even after their offices reopen so some employees can continue to work remotely part of the time

Even so, "it would seem offices will be used more and Zoom will be used less," Kessler said. 

Zoom believes the success of videoconferencing during the pandemic will encourage companies to hold more meetings online instead of requiring employees to travel from different locations to convene in one physical location.

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