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Microsoft Stream Takes a Second Swing

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Microsoft Stream Takes a Second Swing

By: -
21 Jun 2017

When it comes to business streaming, the fabled "Law of Three" appears alive and well in Redmond.

The "Law of Three" in this case refers to the arc of product development experienced by Microsoft as it develops an offering that is strategically fundamental to its long-term success.

Even software franchises in their early days of development, such as the Windows operating system, have been subject to the famed "Law of Three." Under this maxim, Microsoft would typically use the first iteration of a product as a placeholder demonstrating commitment to a software category. The second iteration typically features progress, showing flashes of the full vision Microsoft hopes to achieve. That sets the stage for Version 3, where Microsoft typically nails it.

This week, almost a year after announcing its first foray into video management for the enterprise, Microsoft is taking the wraps off an update it Microsoft Stream platform for managing online video. It's the vaunted "second iteration" of the company's efforts in business streaming, and it holds true to Microsoft form. The updated platform offers a lot to like but remains a few brush strokes short of a masterpiece.

The headliner in version 2 of Microsoft Stream comes in its enhanced search capabilities. Microsoft has baked speech-to-text conversion into its platform in a fundamental way, automatically generating text transcripts that enable more precise searching of video content. Enter "fourth quarter financial results" in the search bar and a viewer will get a link that connects them to the exact passage in the webcast where an executive delivers that specific phrase.

While such speech-to-text transcription capabilities are growing increasingly common on modern business streaming technology platforms, this week's demonstration of the Microsoft Stream solution looked and felt more complete than those offered in competing streaming platforms.

Of course, the proof is in the pudding - or, in this case - in the searching. And for an automated transcription process to deliver a high-quality search experience, accuracy is key. Microsoft Stream Group Program Manager, Vishal Sood, declined to predict the accuracy rate for his product's speech-to-text conversion, but we have yet to run across any automated application the produces flawless transcriptions. 

The great unknown is whether the text conversion accuracy rate falls closer to 95% or 80%. At 95% accuracy, search results will prove to be more precise and robust. At lower levels, the search function might feel more like a "hit or miss" proposition.

A lot rides on Microsoft's ability to get this search functionality right. In this week's Stream demonstration, the company showed off some nifty integration of Stream-powered video capabilities in other Microsoft applications, including SharePoint, Yammer and the Microsoft Teams collaborative work space. These video integrations grow more powerful as video search becomes more reliable. 

In the Teams integration, for instance, a user can search for a specific term across video content stored in the Stream platform - and results would surface directly in the Teams interface. This hints at Stream's potential to serve as the centralized video management, storage, and retrieval engine across the Microsoft ecosystem.

For now, Stream lacks integration with Skype for Business, Microsoft PowerPoint, Word and other key applications within the Office suite. But it is important to note that roadmap plans call for the current Office 365 video portal to be folded into the Microsoft Stream product umbrella later this year. To us, it is a foregone conclusion that Stream will emerge as Microsoft's enterprise video management platform.

While this vision for video can be intoxicating, the list of shortcomings that remain in the platform would be enough to sober up any video administrator. The platform, for instance, still only supports the management of on-demand content. It features no tools for scheduling or ingesting live online video events. Viewership analytics tools, likewise, are relatively sparse on the platform's current iteration.

Overall, Microsoft is about where we expected it to be at this point. Version 2 of Microsoft Stream is not quite ready to replace full-featured platforms capable of handling live- and on-demand webcasting. Yet, it provides glimpses into the power that will come from integrating hosted video solutions with cloud-based productivity applications.

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