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Buyer's Guide to Education Video Platforms 2016

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Schools and educational organizations that have not yet implemented a video management strategy are feeling more pressure to do so every year. We live our lives online, and online life is infused with video at every turn. Teachers, and especially students, will use video as part of the learning process whether or not your organization is prepared to support it.

Beyond this fact, there are strong reasons to have a well-managed video strategy. Videos created by students and educators are valuable instructional assets but are easily lost when they are left unmanaged. There may also be privacy and compliance issues, particularly when minors, health information, or research subjects are involved. Copyright is another consideration, both with regard to your organization’s intellectual property rights and the proper stewardship of content that is licensed or utilized under fair use provisions. Simply put, if there is a video being used—and there most certainly is—it’s in your best interest to support and manage its creation, storage, distribution, and use. That’s where an online video platform (OVP) comes in.

This guide is intended to alert you to critical factors to consider when evaluating OVPs, from important platform features to the health and stability of your vendor.

Making a Wise Investment

An online video platform is a long-term investment and should be treated with the same kind of planning and consideration afforded other enterprise-level platforms. You want to choose a platform you can adopt and use for 5 to 10 years or more, one that will grow with your needs and keep pace with the online video marketplace.

Whether you choose to self-host or go to the cloud will impact your IT infrastructure—this might include new hardware, demands on your network, and additional labor from your IT staff. On top of that, it takes time and effort to create policies and workflows, train users, administer the platform, and make it work with other enterprise systems.

This is not an effort you want to repeat often. Moreover, there are costs associated with switching OVPs. Although online video is converging toward open standards, changing platforms requires moving asset catalogs between databases—rarely a straightforward task. While the codecs and formats of individual video assets might be broadly cross-compatible, the synchronization metadata that drives rich lecture capture presentations that combine video with slides, or other interactive elements, might not transfer so easily.

While features and pricing are often the first factors that catch your eye, making a good medium- to long-term choice requires a careful assessment of the companies behind the platforms you’re considering.

We can’t predict the future, but there are indicators of longevity to look for. First, consider how long the company has been in business, how long it has been offering an OVP product, and how long it has been serving the education vertical. While a longer-standing company would seem best, weigh this against the state of the company’s current product. Is it a lumbering giant resting on an installed customer base, or does it continue to innovate?

Because online video is a dynamic industry, don’t count out recent entrants, but do some homework. Get to know management teams and find out what their industry background is. Learn how much investment or market capitalization the company has.

The company’s experience with education clients is a consideration. A bigger company with few or no education clients might not understand your organization’s needs fully, and might be less motivated to customize a solution.

Your research should also include expert opinion and analysis. Read up on news and reviews of OVPs on StreamingMedia.com. If you can’t find any mentions of a particular platform there, ask the vendor why.

Assess Your Needs

The best OVP for your organization depends on your specific needs. Know what they are.

ASSESSING SCALE

How many instructors, students, and staff will you need to serve with the platform? Depending on your organization, this might include everyone at your school or company, or just a subset.

Next, figure out how many users will be creating video, and how many will primarily be consuming content. In many enterprise learning contexts there are only a few producers serving thousands of employee viewers, whereas a large university could allow thousands of students to upload and share content as part of curricular requirements. This distinction cannot be overlooked, and should narrow your candidate pool.

You should also know how many video assets you need to store right now, and the overall data footprint. Then assess how much new video is created and ingested every year, and how it will increase. Keep in mind that having an OVP probably will encourage the use of even more video, so don’t be too conservative in your estimates.

CHOOSING SELF-HOSTED OR CLOUD

Particularly for smaller organizations, choosing a cloud-based platform seems like a straightforward choice. Along with being freed from hosting and administering storage and servers, cloud hosting usually offloads system updates and maintenance to the vendor.

However, choosing the cloud means making sure the terms of integrations with business-critical enterprise systems (more on that below) are explicit. In particular, check with vendors to ensure that your authentication scheme is supported.

When choosing between self- or cloud-hosted, bandwidth is a significant consideration. If streaming servers are hosted on your organization’s network, then any video viewed outside it will have an impact or your internet gateway, although video viewed within the network will not. This could have unexpected cost or availability implications if there is unanticipated demand.

On the other hand, with streaming hosted in the cloud, any video viewed on your network will also impact your internet gateway. Generally speaking, it should be a little easier to estimate internal demand than external demand, but that impact on your internet service should be taken into account.

A hybrid approach can work for larger organizations with a significant amount of local and external demand. Investigate what cloud-based OVPs offer local caching, serving up content in high demand from inside the network.

With a cloud-based OVP, be aware of bandwidth terms and costs. Especially if your organization has geographically diverse users, find out what CDN options are available, so that you can best serve faraway viewers high-quality streams.

That said, a self-hosted installation is still a good choice for an organization with significant IT resources and experience. As usage scales, your organization might realize increased cost savings. Furthermore, integrating an OVP with existing enterprise storage can also be advantageous.

ASSESS YOUR SECURITY NEEDS

In most cases, an organization has content assets that are publicly viewable and assets whose use is restricted. That means you should know who has permission to ingest and manage videos, and who can view them.

However, this is rarely as simple as having two groups: producers and viewers. Instead, you might want to allow a wide array of users to upload video, but then implement restrictions on how those assets may be used, and who can view them. Should a student’s video assignment be accessible to just her instructor, to her whole class, everyone at the school? Your OVP should let you make this decision and implement that policy easily.

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Your school's video has value, not just for learning and assessment, but for training, promotion, publicity, recruitment, and more. Make sure you choose an education video platform that helps you maximize that value while keeping your video secure and well-managed.