Restaurants and bars are reopening. Welcome back to social life — with a facemask, of course!

Or so you thought. Lockdown loneliness was stifling, but how can you engage with a potential mate IRL without worrying about the third wave of the pandemic? The U.S. reported its highest single-day count of new Covid-19 cases last week with more than 80,000 infections. 

Online-dating behemoth Match Group thinks it has the answer: video chats. 

With subscriptions to its dating service slowing during the pandemic, Match is latching onto video chats to not only provide a Covid-stress free platform for romantic connections, but also spur user engagement and generate revenue. 

Match added video chat after several internal surveys indicated a high demand for the service. Tinder reported that 40% of its Generation Z users wanted to use video to decide if their matches were the right fit to meet in real life even if their favorite dating spots opened for business. Among Hinge and OkCupid users, the demand for virtual dates was even higher, at 70% and 94%, respectively, the company said.

“People are going to be using video more” and “the definition of a first date may change,” Shar Dubey, Match Group’s CEO said in an interview with Axios on Sept.15. A lot of a couple’s first moments, she added, “are going to be virtual, hopefully.” 

The technology isn’t new but it’s been making in-roads into the online dating world recently. Meredith Golden, a New York-based dating coach, said Covid-19 was the tipping point for video chats. 

The real value of video chat is that it serves as a screening tool to decide if meeting IRL is worth the time, money and health risks during Covid-19, according to Golden.  

The average date night in the US costs $117, including dinner for two, a bottle of wine, movie tickets and transportation, 2018 research conducted by online dating service Elite Singles showed.

In the pre-pandemic world, who would have wanted to meet a date online after spending an entire workday in front of a screen? Who would have wanted to trade a coffee date and feeling the sparks of that first touch for a super like? And to state the obvious: video chats are awkward, from technical glitches to miscommunication and missing social cues.  

“Even if someone had initial reservations, it just takes one video chat to get buy in,” Golden said. “Clients see the value immediately.”  

Video chatting is free to use across Match’s dating apps and is available to all users. But the feature can only be activated when both parties turn on the option after initial conversations.   

Match’s rival dating app Bumble, which introduced video chat a year ago, reaped its benefits during the outbreak. Bumble reported an 84% increase in video calls, said Priti Joshi, Bumble’s vice president for strategy in an interview with the technology news website The Verge.

Video chatting could be the next big money-maker for Match, too. Bloomberg intelligence estimates that video chat could drive double digit revenue growth for Tinder this year. 

Match just needs to figure how to keep users video chatting on its platform, and not on alternatives like Zoom or Google Meet.  

Perhaps Match can take a page out of Houseparty’s book. This social app, launched in 2016, connects groups of friends over video like Zoom, and its popularity has been growing, particularly among teens and young adults. 

The company has been focusing on monetization since 2019, when it partnered with Ellen DeGeneres and Warner Bros. Entertainment to launch a charades-like game called Heads Up! The idea was to increase the time users spent on the app and generate revenue by charging users to play the game and unlock more game-related content.      

These in-app purchases are an important additional source of revenue for Match. Tinder’s subscriptions and average revenue per user (ARPU) slowed during the first quarter of 2020, but the ARPU was buoyed mainly by the purchase of à la carte features and not subscriptions.

Video chatting isn’t a fad. It’s here to stay even after the pandemic because it is efficient. Imagine spending 15 minutes on a video chat compared with the hassle of commuting, making reservations for a restaurant and dealing with the stress of catching germs, just to figure out if your date is even worth it! 

With more daters opting for video chats and spending dollars on virtual games instead of coffee, Match can count on the technology as the next big revenue driver for its dating business.