Microsoft announced Office Video at the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas early this year. Back then, I wrote a blog post about my impressions.

Today Micorosoft launched Office 365 Video. We have had the opportunity to use a preview version. Having spent half my work life with video (Tandberg, Cisco) and the other half with Microsoft technologies (.NET and SharePoint), I am excited about this release.

At Puzzlepart, videos are an important part of the content we produce and share every day. For example; with every scrum sprint, we run the sprint demo in the form of a screen cast. Using video has many benefits (this could be the topic of a post of its own). The bottom line is that we want to treat video content like a first class citizen, like any other content we create and share.

Enter Office 365 Video.

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What is Office 365 Video?

Office 365 Video brings an enterprise video portal and Azure Media Services to Office 365. Whereas Azure Media Services gives you a video platform as a service (PaaS), Office 365 Video gives you a ready-to-use video portal (SaaS). Office 365 Video has three main elements:

  • A front-end video portal that presents videos to users.
  • Azure Media Services for scalable and secure streaming and transcoding of videos.
  • Back-end SharePoint site collections for storing and managing videos.

First, let us look at an important concept in Office 365 Video; channels.

Channels

In Office 365 Video you organize videos into channels. A channel is a logical and physical grouping of videos and a video can be in only one channel. Think of a channel like a section in a newspaper. You need to decide whether to put the video in the sports channel, the economy channel or the foreign affairs channel.

Video Portal

Each Office 365 tenant has one video portal. The video portal is part of the new initiative of next generation portals were you get an out-of-the-box portal experience in Office 365. The video portal presents a rich user interface with two ‘tabs’, the Home tab and the Channels tab.

The Home tab shows spotlight videos on top, popular videos, and the newest videos from spotlight channels. Popular videos is currently based on number of views. Later the most relevant videos will be shown based on the Office Graph and relevant videos will show up in Delve.

The Channels tab shows a listing of all channels. Clicking on a channel navigates to the video channel page. The channel page has a similar layout to the home tab, showing up spotlight videos for the channel, popular videos in the channel and the newest videos in the channel.

Azure Media Services and Playback

SharePoint 2013 introduced some nice video features, allows uploading multiple renditions of a video, grabbing thumbnails directly from videos and has a player page showing the video and its meta data. However, you need to manually manage transcoding to different renditions and there is no adaptive streaming involved when you play back a video from SharePoint. If it is a HD quality video and you are playing back over a bad network connection, the experience will be bad.

Office 365 Video relies on Azure Media Services to transcode, stream and encrypt video content. Azure Media Services is hugely scalable. It served up enormous amounts of video from the London Olympics and other big events. This gives the benefit of a scalable video platform supporting a wide range of video formats, streaming bandwidths and robustness to network conditions. The integration with Azure Media Services is transparent to the end user. The user simply uploads the video and Office 365 Video handles the rest automatically.

Office 365 Video uses a player page with a Flash based video player. One of the reasons Microsoft use a Flash player is to support AES encryption of the video stream. A downside is that you need Flash installed. Some devices like the iPad and iPhone do not support Flash. We expect this to be addressed in a later update. Microsoft has also announced dedicated Office 365 Video apps.

The player page has a Yammer tab allowing commenting on the video and seeing other people’s comments. You get the same experience you get when commenting on documents in Office 365. In addition video meta data is shown and related videos you may also like.

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Video Storage and Management

When you upload a video, it is physically stored as file in SharePoint. Office 365 pushes a copy of the file up to Azure where Azure Media Services does its magic. Azure Media Services generates a thumbnail and adds the thumbnail and an Azure stream reference to the SharePoint video metadata.

I think it is good to store a copy of the original video in SharePoint. I have used other services where you need to store the original file yourself outside the service. Since Office 365 is managed by Microsoft, the challenges of large files and backup/restore are Microsoft’s, not ours.

Having the physical file in SharePoint gives the benefits of SharePoint management, permissions settings, metadata, approval workflows etc. The storage of video counts towards your Office 365 storage quota.

In the preview at SPC there was an asset library for each channel and this had implications for the total amount of video content. In the release, there is site collection for each channel. This change makes perfect sense. Even with the new limit of 1TB per site collection, 1TB is very limiting for total content size. Now each channel can be 1TB and with the current limit of 500 000 site collections, there is no practical physical limit.

Conclusion

There are enterprise video solutions today with more features. However the integration in Office 365 with Yammer and Delve and the out-of-the-box experience and ease-of-use for end-users which will dramatically lower the threshold for using video in an enterprise.

Are you considering Office 365 Video? See Getting Started with Office 365 Video for how to plan and roll out Office365 Video in your organization.

We have customers who are eager to use videos in Office 365 in a scalable and manageable way. The integration of Office 365 with Azure Media Services for enterprise video streaming is a very good move by Microsoft. It makes videos a first class citizen in Office 365.