The Daily Telegraph - Business

Video dating is the new normal for finding love

Apps are rolling out the feature that brings people faceto-face via a lens to look for their match, write

- Margi Murphy and James Cook

You would have thought that after a good year or so locked up in their homes, the single and (almost) ready to mingle would be primed to go on a date.

But a recent survey from dating app Hinge has revealed that the majority of daters plan to continue video dating post-pandemic because it is a stressfree way to gauge compatibil­ity before going for an awkward first drink.

“[Video dating] was always viewed as something that was a little ways in the future, maybe five to 10 years away,” says Dominic Whitlock, the editor of Global Dating Insights.

“Once it became a necessity, all of the major brands and smaller brands were bringing in video dating in one form or another.”

Bumble was the first of the major dating apps to have introduced an in-built video chat feature. After lockdown hit in the UK, the company saw a 42pc spike in the number of video calls through the app.

In February, Tinder’s parent company Match bought Hyperconne­ct, the most popular video app in South Korea, for an undisclose­d amount, suggesting it is preparing for live broadcasti­ng, too.

Even Facebook, which typically waits until new social apps take off before launching its own copies of them, is now experiment­ing with its own video speed-dating service, Sparked.

The service, which is being tested, pairs people up to go on four-minute video dates. Facebook’s website says Sparked is focused on bringing “kind” people together.

In an apparent dig at Tinder, one of the most popular dating apps among young people, Sparked says it will not offer public profiles, the ability to swipe through pictures of possible courtiers nor send “endless DMs”, or direct messages.

Instead, the app will allow people to quickly enter video chats with other users before picking someone they might like to date.

The current rush to add video dating is a far cry from several years ago. Dating app Badoo’s decision to add video calling in 2017 was seen as a curiosity at the time.

Similarly, Tinder’s move to buy a video-chat app that year raised eyebrows from industry experts unsure that people would ever use videos to find love.

“One of the things that was holding it back was users were sceptical about it, especially Gen Z who don’t like answering the phone,” Whitlock says.

Smaller companies are also making headway. London start-up Blindlee is growing thanks to a pandemic bump in interest. It uses blurred video calls as a way to match singles instead of profile pictures before allowing them to have an unblurred video call with each other.

“I promise we’re not behind Covid-19, but it has had a silver lining for dating apps and specifical­ly for us,” says Sacha Nasan, Blindlee’s chief executive, who met his Colombian girlfriend in a video call on the app.

“If you matched with someone on Tinder in 2019 and you said maybe we should meet on a video call first, they’d probably think you were some kind of weirdo because it was seen as a taboo,” Nasan says. “Today it’s seen as normal.”

Blindlee launched in 2019 before the pandemic but saw an explosion of interest when lockdowns were introduced. Press coverage at the start of 2020 caused 15 eager venture capital funds to contact the business. “We had tonnes of different calls with VCs,” Nasan says.

Rival Snack, which launched in the States earlier this year, has raised $3.5m (£2.5m) in Silicon Valley funding to grow its business.

“I think videos are a more real and authentic representa­tion of yourself and that is beneficial for dating,” says Snack chief executive Kim Kaplan, a former executive at dating giant Plenty of Fish.

What would be more appealing, a photo of a courter holding a guitar, or a video of him playing, as if it were just to you, she says.

“When you meet up with someone, which ultimately is the end goal, dating is about creating an in-person connection. If you have selfies or images that don’t represent you, you will get found out once your date meets up with you in person.”

Kaplan, whose company’s name refers to a frequently used term used by Gen Z to describe an attractive person as a “snack”, is trying to lure the 18 to 24-year-old crowd who have grown tired of static images on Instagram. It was while scrolling through TikTok that she noticed people were using it as a way to find romance, through hashtags such as “single”. But there wasn’t a mechanism to bring single people together.

TikTok’s growth is certainly trumping that of Facebook, which is now the social network of choice for a mature audience. It has made people comfortabl­e, and skilled in making compelling 15-second videos of themselves.

“People naturally want to move to an as-lifelike-as-possible interactio­n,” she says, which is why people find Instagram “boring” if they’ve spent any time on its Chinese rival.

But video dating won’t just be for young people, Kaplan says. After launching she was surprised to find some generation­al anomalies. “After news of the launch came out we had a 70-year-old sign up.”

Many people in the dating app industry believe that video dating is now here to stay after being a niche product for years.

The continued use of dating on video calls could also help to wipe out the problem of scammers and people pretending to be younger than they are. “Everyone is very much certain that it is here to stay,” Whitlock says.

Nasan sees video chats as a new step that has been inserted between messaging someone on a dating app and going for drinks or dinner.

“It used to be taboo. Now it’s kind of mainstream,” he says.

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