Review: Microsoft Office 365 Video

Microsoft recently announced its entry into the enterprise video platform space with the introduction of Office 365 Video. Aimed at existing Office 365 Enterprise customers, the product provides a cloud-hosted internal portal for storing and sharing videos. It combines SharePoint’s storage infrastructure with Azure Media Services for video conversion and streaming, and is fronted by a familiar YouTube-like interface.

In this review, we examine Office 365 Video (“O365V”) to see what’s in the first release and which features customers are asking for. We also present a top ten list of other features that Microsoft may want to consider in future versions of the product.

Why a Separate Video Portal?
What’s Included in Office 365 Video?
What Else Do Customers Want?
Ten Other Missing Features
Summary
 

Why a Separate Video Portal?

The use of video in corporations and universities is skyrocketing. By the end of 2016, Gartner estimates that large organizations will stream 16 hours of live and on-demand video to each employee every month—that’s about 45 minutes of video per employee per day. The increasing use of video for sharing internal information creates growing demand for that information to be organized, managed as a corporate asset, and made easily accessible.

Today, SharePoint and other traditional content management systems (CMSs) already provide basic functionality for uploading and sharing videos. However, these systems were not designed to address at least three unique challenges of mass video storage, efficient streaming over the corporate network, and device compatibility.

First, when compared to documents, spreadsheets, and slide decks, video files are massive. A single minute of video captured on an iPhone 5s takes up 80MB of disk space, and longer recordings like town hall meetings and training videos can take up several gigabytes (thousands of megabytes). Multiply that by thousands of employees and you can quickly amass a video library that is multiple terabytes (thousands of gigabytes) in size. Traditional content management systems like SharePoint have file size limits that prohibit the multi-gigabyte files and multi-terabyte libraries that are typical in enterprise video collections.

Second, videos are delivered over the corporate network using a technique called streaming, as opposed to simple downloading. When an employee wants to access a document, spreadsheet, or PowerPoint stored on the network, they download it in its entirety and open a local copy of the file. By contrast, video files are streamed across the network—meaning they’re sent in small chunks during playback. This reduces load on the corporate network and eliminates the need to wait for a massive video file to download in its entirety before it can be watched. SharePoint and other traditional CMSs don’t provide built-in facilities to stream videos.

Finally, video files, more than any other file type, can be problematic when it comes to device compatibility. Flash videos, for example, notoriously don’t play back on iPhones and iPads. Similarly, Windows Media Video (WMV) files aren’t compatible by default with Android devices. Even commonly-used video conferencing software like Cisco’s WebEx creates recordings that can’t be viewed on PCs and Macs without special software. The range of available video formats and the complicated matrix of supported platforms creates a need for a “universal video translator” (called a transcoder) that isn’t present in CMSs like SharePoint.

SharePoint Video Problems

SharePoint doesn’t recognize some media formats like FLV, SWF, and ARF as valid video files (left) and doesn’t transcode videos for consistent playback on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices (right)


 

Since traditional content management systems don’t address the needs of video, some organizations turn to YouTube, which can manage the scale, streaming, and file conversion requirements of video. However, YouTube’s popularity as a public-facing video portal that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection makes it unsuitable for internal corporate content. Company meetings, town hall events, onboarding videos, sales training, and other recordings meant for internal-only access require a more stringent security model that isn’t offered by YouTube. For more information on this topic, see our handbook, Your YouTube Channel vs. the Corporate YouTube.

From the shortcomings of traditional CMSs and public portals like YouTube, a new enterprise software market was born. The video content management system (VCMS) provides organizations with a secure repository built for the specific needs of video. This market was first profiled two years ago by Gartner, and is most recently evaluated in Gartner’s 2014 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Video Content Management.

Microsoft’s entry into the VCMS space validates the importance of this market to the modern workplace, and acknowledges the unique requirements of enterprise video.
 

What’s Included in Office 365 Video

The first release of O365V brings some welcome enhancements for existing Microsoft SharePoint customers.

First, it provides a central library for storing an organization’s videos. Today, most businesses exist in a state of multimedia chaos, in which video files are scattered across network file shares, employee hard drives, and other locations. Although SharePoint has always provided a traditional repository in which videos could be stored, O365V puts a familiar video-friendly face on the CMS. It includes a YouTube-like UI with “spotlight videos” on the homepage and channels for organizing videos of similar themes. Uploading videos in a variety of commonly used formats is a simple drag-and-drop.

SharePoint Office 365 Video Upload

Office 365 Video includes a simple drag-and-drop interface for uploading media files


 

Second, O365V automatically converts uploaded videos for streaming to desktops and laptops. This has been one of SharePoint’s biggest shortcomings in managing enterprise video. Because SharePoint is a generic file repository, it treats video no differently than documents and spreadsheets. For example, an FLV file (Flash video) that’s uploaded to SharePoint is stored on the server in its original format, and is downloaded in its entirety as an FLV file. If the device downloading the file doesn’t support Flash, it will be unable to play the video. This holds true for ARF videos (WebEx’s recording format), WMV files, and other proprietary formats. By contrast, O365V copies videos to Azure Media Services, where they’re transcoded for efficient streaming over a corporate network to any desktop or laptop web browser that supports Flash. O365V’s current Flash dependency is discussed further in the section below, What Else Do Customers Want?.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming

Azure Media Services provides O365V with adaptive bitrate streaming for on-demand video viewing


 

Third, O365V enables users to search for videos based on their title and description. Once a video is uploaded to the O365V portal, this metadata is indexed and added to SharePoint’s search engine. Searches made from the video portal or elsewhere in SharePoint will return links to videos. Video-specific search results can also be accessed through a new Videos tab in SharePoint.

SharePoint Office 365 Video Search Results

Videos can be searched based on their title and description.


 

Fourth, employees can comment on videos and share the discussion on their Yammer feed. O365V’s video playback page includes a Yammer pane that is used for conversations related to the video. Every comment is automatically posted to Yammer, and users can specify which groups and individual contacts on Yammer should be notified of the conversation.

SharePoint Office 365 Video Yammer Integration

Video commenting is integrated with Yammer


 

Fifth, the O365V portal can be co-branded with a corporate logo and themed using a combination of accent colors and a background image. The custom theming interface is accessed through the Office 365 Admin tab, and applies the changes across all Office 365 products (Outlook, OneDrive for Business, etc).

SharePoint Office 365 Video Theming

Existing theming functionality in Office 365 is applied to the video portal as well


 

Finally, Office 365 Video provides a simple model for granting permissions to the portal and to video channels. Currently, there are four levels of access control within the system—Video Admins can manage the home page and change permissions, Channel Admins can create channels,Channel Editors can upload, edit, and delete videos within a channel, and Viewers can watch videos stored in a channel.

SharePoint Office 365 Video Permissions

Simple access control can be set for the video portal and for video channels.


 

What Else Do Customers Want?

Like other teams at Microsoft, the Office 365 organization gathers customer feedback through uservoice.com. Here, customers can vote for features, provide feedback to the product organization, and get their questions answered. A look at the new Office 365 Video user voice forum provides a snapshot of ten of the most-requested features customers want to see in future product releases.

O365V Feature Requests
 

Embed Video into Other Web Pages
Currently, Office 365 Video users can only watch recordings if they navigate to their organization’s O365V web portal. There’s no way to embed videos or playlists into existing intranet portals, including SharePoint sites. Without the ability to integrate videos into the sites employees already use to find and share information, O365V increases the chance that these videos will not be found by employees that need them.

Custom Metadata Fields
Every enterprise VCMS supports basic metadata fields that provide information about the video. In the first release of O365V, these are limited to title and description. Users are asking for the ability to add their own organization-specific metadata fields. These could include tags and categories for improved discoverability, speaker information, department information, related videos, approval status, and more.

SharePoint Office 365 Video Metadata

Editable video metadata currently only includes title and description


 

Analytics and Reporting
Enterprise video platforms have a unique set of reporting requirements that go beyond what’s available in traditional content management systems and what’s currently available in O365V. A video analytics package typically includes:

  1. Reports on individual videos, including the number of views, when the video was watched, who watched it, and whether they watched to completion.
  2. Reports on individual employees, including the list of videos watched, the number of times each video was watched and when, and how much of each video was watched.
  3. Aggregate video reports that provide information on the most popular videos and employee viewing behavior.

Currently, O365V only lists the number of times each video was viewed, and provides a basic storage report showing gigabytes of video consumed for each channel. O365V storage counts against an organization’s SharePoint quota, so the storage report is an important step toward a broader analytics package.

Office 365 Admin Page

Office 365’s Admin page shows video channels and their storage used against SharePoint quotas


 

Mobile-optimized Experience
Last year, more than 90% of U.S. employees reported using a smartphone or tablet for work. Many of these employees would be unable to watch videos hosted on O365V because the product currently uses Flash for playback. In addition, the O365V web portal isn’t yet optimized for mobile devices, and there aren’t native apps for iOS, Android, or Windows Phone.

Office 365 Video Mobile Playback

Playback of Office 365 Videos is currently unsupported on many mobile devices


 

Live streaming
From town hall events to training sessions, more and more corporate video is being streamed live to employees across the corporate network and around the world. Currently, Office 365 Video only supports on-demand playback of pre-recorded videos. Users are requesting the ability to live stream video and the content of their screens to other people within and outside the organization.

Auto-publishing of Lync Recordings
As the mind- and market share of Lync (now Skype for Business) continues to grow, there’s an increasing desire among users to record and share the valuable information exchanged during web conferences. This is reflected in O365V customer requests to support automatic publishing of recordings that are captured with Lync. The popularity of this request points to one of the most critical elements of a video platform—its ability to simplify video capture and publishing workflows. By removing even a single step in a publishing workflow (in this case, manually dragging and dropping a Lync recording into O365V), users are significantly more likely to share videos in a central portal.

Custom Thumbnails
When Azure Media Services transcodes O365V recordings, it also creates a thumbnail that is displayed on the O365V homepage and on channels. Currently, this thumbnail is isn’t customizable—Azure simply takes a snapshot of the video at 4 seconds into playback and transfers the image back to Office 365. This is a limitation to be aware of if a video includes a pre-roll bumper longer than 4 seconds, or if it’s important for the thumbnail to accurately represent the content of the video. Also, although it’s not noted in the feature request, Microsoft may want to increase the size and quality of the thumbnails, which are currently low-resolution images that blur text and appear grainy on the O365V homepage and channel Spotlight sections.

Office 365 Video Thumbnail

Video thumbnails cannot be customized and are stored in a low-resolution format


 

Flexibility in the Security Model
There are currently two feature requests in the O365V user voice forums related to how permissions are set for video access. First, permissions can be set on video channels, but not on individual videos. This limits the precision of access control, and is inconsistent with permissioning model used elsewhere in SharePoint and in other enterprise content management systems. Second, channel permissions in O365V only provide the equivalent of “read” or “write” access. Users are either granted the ability to watch videos, or they’re given the ability to upload, edit, and delete any content in the channel. Customers are asking for a third level of access control, in which a user can upload videos, but they can’t edit or delete other videos within the channel.

Screen Recording Tool
Screen recordings are one of the most common types of user-generated video content within the enterprise, and O365V customers are asking for an integrated tool for recording the content of their screen along with voiceover audio. We’ll discuss this feature more in the next section on Ten Other Missing Features because it relates to a broader user expectation that video capture tools should be integrated with video content management.

External Sharing of Videos
Office 365 Video is scoped to only allow access from the corporate intranet. That means that partner training videos, customer-facing tutorials, and public-facing event recordings such as press conferences and investor calls aren’t yet supported in O365V.
 

Ten Other Missing Features

Although O365V provides a familiar YouTube-like interface and an enterprise-grade transcoding engine in Azure Media Services, it currently lacks a number of important features that businesses and universities look for when evaluating video platforms. In addition to the user requests currently reflected on the user voice forums, here are ten additional capabilities Microsoft may want to consider for future releases.

10: Availability Windows
When videos are uploaded to most video content management systems, they’re processed and made available for playback in a matter of minutes. Anyone with viewing access to the channel or folder is then able to watch the video in full, and by default, the video will remain available until it’s moved from the folder or deleted.

Sometimes, however, organizations want to limit the availability of videos — either by delaying when they’re able to be viewed, or by selecting a time after which they’ll no longer be viewable. As a result, “availability windows” have become an increasingly standard feature in VCMSs.

For business users, availability windows provide an easy way to set up approval workflows, making videos inaccessible until they’ve been reviewed. Availability windows also help address the problem of outdated content, setting videos to expire after a specified period of time. This can be particularly helpful for businesses who want to archive annual training videos at the end of each fiscal year, and for academic institutions who want to archive lectures and other videos after the end of each semester.

9: Immersive Video Playback
Office 365 Video has adopted a familiar YouTube-style playback UI, in which a single stream of video is embedded in a web page with the title, description, and comments located underneath. While this viewing model is well-suited to consumer-facing videos, it isn’t optimized for watching HD internal corporate presentations, training videos, university lectures, screen recordings, or product demonstrations.

First, the YouTube-style UI doesn’t put the focus on the video content itself. On a 1920×1080 monitor, YouTube videos account for less than 30% of screen real estate in a maximized web browser window. By contrast, other video content management systems increasingly allow for playback of multiple synchronized videos feeds (e.g. video of the presenter and the content of their screen), devoting the majority of screen real estate to the video content and providing a more engaging playback experience.

In addition, the needs of employees watching business video, or of students watching lectures, are quite different than those of consumers watching videos on YouTube. Because much of the internal video content within organizations is instructional in nature, users benefit from features such as the ability to take time-stamped notes that can be instantly reviewed in the future. Video navigation needs are also different in the enterprise—for example, automatic generation of video chapters helps employees and students find content within training and lecture videos that are often 30-60 minutes or longer.

Multi Stream Video Playback - Panopto Video Platform

Video content management systems typically allow for playback of multiple streams of synchronized video, such as video of the presenter and the content of their screen


 

8: File Attachments
When videos are shared within an organization, they’re often supplemented by documents, slides, or other related materials. Most video content management systems provide the ability to attach files such as PDFs to videos. This feature is not yet available in Office 365 Video.

7: Integration with Non-Microsoft Products
In addition to supporting video embedding in other intranet portals, there are opportunities for O365V to integrate with other complementary products.

For example, Office 365 Video could integrate out of the box with popular learning management systems (LMSs). Corporate learning and development teams as well as universities rely on LMSs to register and manage learner information, organize materials, assess individual and organizational performance, and more. When video is used as part of a learning curriculum, it’s important for the video platform to support single sign on with the LMS, and to support the exchange of information through standards like SCORM, which can be used to determine whether a training video was watched to completion.

In addition, O365V could benefit from the integration of interactive content like quizzes and polls in videos. This would enable instructional designers to use familiar tools like Articulate and Adobe Captivate to integrate video into their organization’s e-learning courses.

Embedding Quizzes into Corporate Video - Panopto Video Platform
 

6: Ability to Move and Copy Videos
The first release of Office 365 doesn’t support the ability to move or copy videos from one channel to another. As a result, users can only change the location of videos or create copies by uploading the video again to another folder, re-entering its metadata, and in the case of a “move” operation, deleting the original video. This process becomes particularly cumbersome when multiple videos need to be moved or copied between channels. It also creates inconsistencies in analytics, since viewing statistics for the original video are not transferred to the newly uploaded video.

5: Search Inside Videos
Traditional video search, like that used in Office 365 Video, only uses the title and description to help you find videos. There are two issues with this approach that have traditionally limited the adoption of enterprise video.

First, manually-entered metadata represents a small fraction of the valuable information stored within a video. For example, a title and description of a training video may be 50 words in length. If the training video is 35 minutes long, and assuming a comfortable speaking pace of 125 words per minute, then the video would contain approximately 4,375 spoken words, plus additional words that are shown on the presenter’s slides. In this case, the manual metadata represents approximately 1% of the information conveyed in the presentation.

Second, even when titles, descriptions, and other manually-entered metadata like tags are successful in finding videos, they don’t provide the precise moment in the video where the topic is covered, leaving users to hunt and peck in the timeline to try and find what they’re looking for. When many business videos are 30-60 minutes long or more, this introduces a significant barrier to finding content within videos.

Increasingly, video content management systems overcome these challenges by using automatic speech recognition to find and fast forward to words spoken in videos, and optical character recognition to find and fast forward to words that appear on slides or anywhere else within videos.

Inside Video Search - Panopto VCMS
 

4: On-Premises Support
According to a study from Boston Consulting Group, the global software as a service market is growing at approximately three times that of traditional on-premises software. In the same study, however, enterprise CIOs estimate that between 40 to 65% of their application budget will be spent in on-premises applications based on regulatory constraints, the desire to control upgrade schedules, and corporate policies for data hosting, business continuity, and data retention.

Currently, Office 365 Video is a cloud-only solution. This could limit its adoption in some key vertical markets including financial services and healthcare. It also precludes some existing Office 365 customers from using the product, such as those who have purchased Office 365 ProPlus — a plan that allows businesses to use on-premises versions of SharePoint and Exchange.

3: Video Editing
The first release of O365V doesn’t include the ability to edit videos. This means that recordings will need to be edited prior to upload using a tool like Premiere, Final Cut Pro, or Camtasia Studio. As Microsoft releases future versions of O365V, an editor could add value by allowing people to make changes to their videos without the need to purchase additional software or outsource editing to an AV team. Editing functionality could include:

  • Trimming the top and tail of videos
  • Cutting sections from within a video
  • Splitting a long video into smaller clips
  • Splicing multiple videos together (particularly useful for pre- and post-roll bumpers)
  • Adding and editing video chapters and captions
  • Synchronizing videos and slides

2: Video Capture and Webcasting Tools
Traditional enterprise video software draws a line that separates the process of capturing video from the process of sharing it. For example, screencast recording tools like Camtasia typically output an MP4 file or other commonly-used video formats. What happens to that file, and how it’s shared, is in the hands of the user. This often leads to the challenge that many organizations face today — videos being scattered across the corporate network.

The solution is to integrate video capture and video sharing workflows. In other words, recording and webcasting software should be integrated with the video content management system. This is often done by automatically uploading video recordings and webcasts to the VCMS once the recording is complete. It removes the burden of sharing from the video creator and also minimizes the time before the video is available for viewing.

In the O365V user voice forums, customers have requested an integrated screen recording tool like Screencast-o-Matic. Although this would simplify the sharing of screencasts, it wouldn’t address other video capture scenarios like video presentations, instructor-led training events, town hall meetings, and mobile videos captured on employee smartphones and tablets. So in future releases, Microsoft may want to consider the integration of more comprehensive recording and broadcasting software into O365V.

1: Ability to Upload Files Larger than 2GB
Office 365 Video is built on top of SharePoint and, in the first release, has inherited SharePoint’s file size limit. Specifically, O365V doesn’t support the upload of video files larger than 2 gigabytes in size. This limits the type of videos that can be stored in O365V, as most smartphones, tablets, and webcams can record video in 720p or 1080p, and even a 5-minute video encoded at 720p can range from 2-4GB in size.

SharePoint Office 365 Video File Size Max

Office 365 Video doesn’t support the upload of videos larger than 2GB


 

Summary

When compared to SharePoint, Office 365 Video introduces welcome change. The YouTube-like portal presents users with a familiar interface, and Azure Media Services provides a solid back-end for transcoding and streaming videos.

The activity on Microsoft’s user voice forums points to the growing market demand for enterprise video platforms that meet the unique storage, streaming, and management requirements of video. It also highlights a number of areas where Microsoft or third-party vendors could add functionality to expand the reach of O365V videos into other internal and external portals, provide reporting and analytics, deliver live and mobile video, increase the flexibility of access control, and integrate video capture tools.

Published: December 09, 2014