Streaming Video Workflows for User-Generated Content

Speaker at podium, speaking to audience of remote viewers

Streamed video has become part of our daily lives, and we’re watching more of it all the time, wherever we are and on whatever device we may be using. Many of the thanks for this go to sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, which started bringing us on-demand content more than ten years ago, followed a few years later by streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu. In the last two years, mobile apps like those from Periscope and Facebook have made live streaming content creation so easy that anyone can do it.

As often happens, trends in the consumer market begin making their way inside campuses and corporate firewalls. Teachers, students, and employees increasingly need to create live and on-demand video content for internal audiences. Use cases can include capturing live presentations, producing video for a flipped classroom, sharing a video recording for online evaluation by teachers and classmates, or creating a training video to help colleagues be more productive at a given task.

IT admins everywhere are challenged to step up their game and meet the expectations of students and employees, or else risk losing them to more progressive institutions.


How can you embrace user-generated content with any-screen playback for your campus or workplace?

Let’s dig in, looking first at the basic workflow, then focusing on five common scenarios and ways to address each.

No matter how you solve your user-generated content (UGC) challenge, the basic process will typically look like this: Capture > Upload > Transcode (optional) > Store > Present. Let’s quickly walk through each step, and then we’ll talk about workflow alternatives.

  1. Capture. First, your user needs to record video of herself or her computer screen. Many folks record, edit, and publish for on-demand playback, but an increasing number just live-stream and use the archive for on-demand playback. Options can vary, ranging from tools built into to your device operating system (including—or perhaps, especially—phones) to browser-based screen, video, and audio capture and editing that is provided with some enterprise video platform solutions.
  2. Upload. Whether on a phone or a computer, the recorded video will need to end up on a server somewhere for delivery to others. In most cases with recorded video, users will go to a web page, get prompted to select the video to upload, and enter information about the video (e.g., title), and then submit it.
  3. Transcode. An uploaded video file may need some processing to convert it from the original format to something more appropriate for any-screen playback, and perhaps to create multiple versions at different quality levels to support adaptive bit rate streaming (ABR). If you live-stream your video using ABR, you should be able to just record those live streams for use as ready-to-use on-demand ABR assets.
  4. Store. The video file(s) need to be stored where they can be accessed for delivery. Storing files will usually be an automated step in the workflow after upload and transcoding is complete. Within the firewall, this usually means keeping the video files on network storage.
  5. Present. Videos are usually presented on a web page with a thumbnail image, title, description, and duration. Unless the video loads and plays automatically (a la YouTube), the viewer would click on the thumbnail to start playback. Behind the scenes, a server would start to deliver the video to the viewer’s device.


UGC Workflow Options

There are numerous options for putting together a user-generated content workflow, each having different levels of cost and effort. We’ll look at five.

Free. YouTube is the most recognizable option for UGC. Key benefits are price, automatic captions, and public discoverability. Drawbacks are advertising, lack of content protection, links to unrelated videos that appear after each play, the imperfect quality of auto-generated captions, and bandwidth costs and impacts as on-site viewers clog your Internet connections. YouTube provides a good way to improve discoverability of your videos on the Internet, but is far from ideal for internal-facing content.

Office 365. Are all your users already subscribers to an Office 365 Enterprise plan? If so, one option to consider is Office 365 Video. It’s already built into your per-seat price, including the internal-facing video portal. Another option might the recently announced Microsoft Stream offering, which is free during the preview and will eventually replace Office 365 Video.

DIY. Some organizations head down the do-it-yourself path as they get started with UGC, especially if they have students or employees available and willing to build robust UGC solutions. For most web developers and IT admins, it’s not too hard to pull together free capture software (e.g., CaptureCast), open source file-transcoding software (e.g., FFmpeg), or a cloud-based file transcoding service (e.g., or Zencoder), an open source content-management system (e.g., Drupal), Wowza Streaming Engine for multiformat packaging and delivery, and a low-cost or open source HTML5 player (e.g., Wowza Player, video.js, or JW Player).

Watch a short video on how the University of Maine built its own video platform.

Best of breed. What do you do if you already have a content-management system (CMS) or learning management system (LMS), and just need to add video?

  • If you don’t mind doing a bit of integration work, you can still take a partial DIY approach and have your existing CMS or LMS pull videos directly from Wowza Streaming Engine for presentation in a player within the CMS/LMS content portal.
  • But what if you want robust video asset-management features, such as integrated video-capture tools, a video-centric portal, automatic transcription and captioning support, video contents search, enhanced security options, and device-specific format delivery? If so, you need a video-management product that integrates seamlessly with your existing content manager or stands well on its own. For a moderately priced campus or corporate YouTube-like experience, consider products such as Medial or Ensemble Video. For integration with SharePoint, try Ramp VideoVerge.
  • If you have a very large organization with a myriad of live and on-demand video requirements, need edge delivery or capture appliances, and might need a hybrid of on-premises and cloud capabilities, you can buy a high-end solution. Companies such as Kaltura and Qumu provide full platforms that include robust hardware, software, managed cloud services, and professional services.

There are many options available for delivering user-generated content, each with its own pros and cons. Hopefully this quick overview of common workflow steps and solution categories gets you started down the path to deploying UGC in your organization.

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