I guess you can’t have too many services to upload, organize, and play back videos. Microsoft has actually done a pretty decent job of the Office 365 Video portal, but it operates within the walled garden of an Office 365 tenant and the videos are only accessible to tenant users. The new Stream service (now in preview) is designed to be more social and more accessible to the wider world. The two are meant to merge in the future. We’ll just have to see what happens.
On July 18, 2016, Microsoft announced a new business video service named Microsoft Stream. As described in the announcement, apart from the ability for anyone to sign up for the new service (in seconds, apparently), the features of the Stream preview look awfully like those of the Office 365 Video portal that’s currently available to all enterprise tenants. According to the announcement, these are the main features of the new service:
- Easy upload of video (drag and drop different forms of video files and organize them into channels)
- Indexing and search
- Watch on any device
- Secure management
- Following, sharing, hashtags (and liking) – all the social bells and whistles
- Embed videos into web pages
In short, it very much appears that Stream is a Microsoft attempt to deliver a business-oriented version of YouTube. While free now, Stream will eventually be a paid-for service. Microsoft has not announced any details of how much Stream will cost to license on an individual or business basis. A mobile app is also not yet available, but given the propensity of Microsoft to have a mobile app for everything, one should appear soon.
The Stream preview is powered by Azure Media Services, as is Office 365 Video. The big difference between the two is that Office 365 Video also stores metadata for uploaded videos and the original video files in SharePoint Online site collections, thus allowing the videos to be indexed and discoverable through applications such as Delve. Stream has its own version of indexing and metadata management, but the two services appear to use the same transcoding and content delivery capabilities. One big difference between the two services is that a video can only belong to a single channel in Office 365 Video (because a channel is a site collection) whereas a video can exist in multiple Stream channels.
A quick test of Stream (Figure 1) showed that it was faster to process uploaded videos and make them available to users, probably because its processing is simplified. The method used to upload videos is very similar to that of Office 365 Video, but that’s probably because there are relatively few ways to go about the task. All was well for a while and then the service started to have problems and I couldn’t connect again (using multiple browsers), possibly because of the demand on it through early sign-ups.
Figure 1: Uploading a video to Stream
Because Stream is targeted at companies, it politely declined my attempt to sign up using a Gmail address. However, it was happy to accept my Office 365 email address, which then created the somewhat worrying thought that this could be a way for Office 365 users whose tenants don’t currently support video (probably for good reasons) to set up a form of phantom IT video service for the company.
Fortunately, there’s a way to prevent people using their Office 365 email addresses to register with Stream by disabling ad hoc email subscriptions for the tenant. Use PowerShell, load the AAD module, connect to the service and then enter this command. Be aware that implementing this block will interfere with the ability of tenant users to use their email addresses to subscribe to other Microsoft cloud services, so it’s not something to do without thinking through the ramifications.
Set-MsolCompanySettings -AllowAdHocSubscriptions $false
Stream obviously targets a different market segment than Office 365 Video. Stream Preview delivers a video management service to customers who have not signed up to become Office 365 tenants yet want to be able to upload and manage videos that are important to their company, such as those used for training or marketing purposes. It also seems that Stream is determinedly “social”, perhaps to mimic other services like YouTube.
Office 365 Video offers much the same capabilities to upload, store, and replay videos (across a wide range of device form factors), albeit in a more managed and structured environment, to Office 365 enterprise tenants. Among the advantages that Office 365 Video has today are the way that video content is indexed in the Office Graph and surfaced in applications like Delve, plus all the work that Microsoft has done to make sure that video content meets compliance standards.
The question therefore arises why Microsoft has two very similar video services. Microsoft attempted to explain the situation in a pretty vapid blog post followed up by some good question and answer interaction in the Yammer-based Office 365 Network (oddly enough, things were much quieter in the new network).
In a nutshell, for the immediate future, the two services will exist and operate separately and nothing will change with Office 365 Video (Figure 2). Over time, Microsoft indicated that the UI and feature set offered across the two services will merge. In other words, features currently available in Stream Preview will be ported to Office 365 Video and vice versa. Eventually, the two services will merge around the same technical base. Office 365 tenants will continue to access Office 365 Video and Stream customers will access a different portal.
Figure 2: Office 365 Video
Clearly, some migration work is necessary to bring the two services into a unified whole and to provide two different presentation layers on top of the same foundation. Microsoft says that they have not yet quantified what migration effort is required but that their goal is to mask the complexity from Office 365 tenants so that everything continues to work while the upgrade proceeds. They’ve also said that some new features like speech-to-text indexing of videos might also appear at this time, possibly as part of the capabilities offered in higher-end plans.
For the moment, all tenants can do is to persist with their plans to deploy and use Office 365 Video while keeping an eye on how Microsoft Stream develops and the features that the new service delivers that might eventually show up in Office 365 Video.
Follow Tony on Twitter @12Knocksinna.
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