Having had the opportunity to see Skype Broadcast Meetings in action and come down from the initial excitement, I wanted to take some time to evaluate the feature’s pros and con’s and to try and discover where I see this fitting within businesses. To do this, let’s take a journey from start to finish through the feature, from integration to consuming.
Skype Broadcast Meetings will work with Skype for Business Server 2015 provided that you have an active on-premises to online hybrid. The minimum Office 365 subscription that allows the use of Skype Broadcast Meetings is E3. E1 or Business licenced users will not be able to participate in these meetings. Setting up your on premises Skype for Business deployment with Office 365 is a very straightforward procedure, provided you have all the supported infrastructure and pre-requisites already in place. If you have not got your hybrid in place and you want Skype Broadcast Meetings, please set your hybrid up first. Microsoft have created a stepped guide to this process that can be found here: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Configure-Skype-for-Business-Server-2015-Hybrid-b06ee805-4349-4519-82fb-b06ed57c0bd0
Now you’re on premises identities have been synchronised to Azure Active Directory, Single Sign-On activated and on premises users have been licenced with E3 plans in Office 365, you are ready to start thinking about Skype Broadcast Meetings. First off a couple of myth busters.
- Presenters who want to use Skype Broadcast Meetings do not have to be moved from on premises Skype for Business to Skype for Business Online. Therefore, they will not lose any features they currently consume, only add to their productivity toolset.
- Skype Broadcast Meetings are not a replacement to dial-in conferences, web conferences, room systems or ad-hoc meetings where both presenters and participants can collaborate interactively. Skype Broadcast Meetings have their own unique placement and does not compete with those technologies, only enhances them.
- Not everyone can participate in a Skype Broadcast Meeting. There are 4 types of users in a Skype Broadcast Meeting, Presenters, Producers, Participants and Audiences – There is a difference!
So what is a Skype Broadcast Meetings in one sentence?
A Skype Broadcast Meeting is a special meeting that takes place between presenters and participants that can be aired live to audiences of up to 10,000 across the globe.
Breaking the User Categories down
- Presenter – A presenter is your anchor-man (or woman) or actor(ress) who will be delivering the content of your production in the meeting.
- Participant – Participants are like your extras, or co-presenters who are responsible for engaging with the presenter in order to enrich the meeting and give it purpose
- Producer- The Producer is responsible for making sure the correct presenter or participant is heard or seen at the right time and ensures no content is obfuscated from the meeting
- Audience – The Audience are people who are watching the meeting but have no ability to interact with the meeting
So what is a Skype Broadcast Meeting in two words?
That’s right, a Skype Broadcast Meetings are just like your business’s own personal TV channel and your meetings are your Eastender’s, Emmerdale’s that can be shown and aired over your TV channel to your fans and followers, quickly, easily and with almost no effort and no extra.
Now that we understand the fundamentals of a Skype Broadcast Meeting, it’s a regular meeting you already use streamed live across the internet. Let’s look at setting one up.
One Time Configuration Required
In order to federate your Skype for Business on-premises deployment with the Skype Broadcast service you will need to create a new hosting provider and add to your allowed domains. If you have open federation then you should not need to add the domains to your allowed list.
Using the Skype for Business Management Shell enter the following command to add the hosting provider to your deployment.
New-CsHostingProvider -Identity LyncOnlineResources -ProxyFqdn sipfed.resources.lync.com -VerificationLevel AlwaysVerifiable -Enabled $True -EnabledSharedAddressSpace $True -HostsOCSUsers $True -IsLocal $False
Then if you are not using open federation enter the following commands to add the required domains to your allowed list
New-CsAllowedDomain –identity noammeetings.lync.com
New-CsAllowedDomain –identity emeameetings.lync.com
New-CsAllowedDomain –identity apacmeetings.lync.com
New-CsAllowedDomain –identity resources.lync.com
That’s it, your deployment will now be ready for Skype Broadcast Meetings, so what next?
Scheduling a Skype Broadcast Meeting
What is not immediately apparent is that in order for a meeting to become eligible to be a Skype Broadcast Meeting, you must first schedule one. You cannot convert a normal meeting into a broadcast meeting whether they are ad-hoc or scheduled. Also there appears to be no mechanism in either the Skype for Business client or the Skype for Business plugin for Outlook that will enable to you schedule a Skype Broadcast Meeting (yet). I say yet, in hope that Microsoft will do something about this! So how do we schedule a meeting to be broadcast? We have to go to the scheduling website https://sched.services.skype.net which prompt you to login.
Here enter your federated credentials and sign in where you will see the landing page that shows you what events are scheduled, past and ones that are in progress and live
Use the calendar to select a date you want to schedule a meeting and then click on the “New Meeting” link above it. This will allow you to customise the meeting, choose the start time and duration. It will also allow you to add your events team, Presenters, Producers, Participants and also allow you to choose your audience type (Microsoft call these Attendees – but I prefer audience). These can be specific people, or open to the world. You also have the ability to customise the experience a little, by using your own help / troubleshooting URL, link to supporting content and even the ability to integrate a yammer group and a bing pulse to your broadcast. I am not going to go into detail about integrating Yammer and Bing Pulse in this post, I am saving them for another in the future.
Here are a few screenshots of customising the event
Editing the Event Details
Adding in the Events Team
Here you can add by email address, or active directory username
Choosing your Audience (Attendees)
There are 3 types. The defualt is anonymous, Secure means only the people who’s email addresses you enter can join in and Open. This setting is not available yet but will allow all internal users to join if they wish
Customising with help and support
Audience Participation Apps
You can add apps to the right or lower left panels at the moment and apps are limited to Yammer and Bing Pulse. These apps although give the audience a certain degree of participation, it is geared more towards feedback than full meeting participation. This is why I said earlier they cannot paricipate in a meeting.
So now your meeting is scheduled, what now? Now you need to email the link out to your audience. The Events team will get an calendar invitation in Outlook for the event. You can get the event link by clicking on the “copy event link” at the top of your meeting scheduler
You should now see your broadcast meeting in the Upcoming Events list on the main scheduler page
Joining the Meeting as a Presenter / Events team
Joining the meeting as a presenter or as part of the events team, you woul click the link provided to you in the invitation email. This will launch a web browser and you will then choose to sign in as a presenter. If you have SSO already set up this will launch your Skype for Business client into the “Green Room” where all event members can assemble and prepare before the meeting goes live
You may have to allow the plugin to launch the Skype for Business client
Notice the meeting type is Skype Broadcast. The broadcast cannot start until a presenter enables their video or adds content to the meeting. During this time the audience will not be able to see or hear what is happening in the meeting and will be unaware that anything has started. You will also see your broadcast now showing as live in the Broadcast Scheduler
Preparting the Meeting for Broadcast
Broadcast meetings are limited in what you can add as content. Presently, the only content besides Audio and Video you can add is PowerPoint presentations. You still require your on premises Office Web Apps server and appropriate licencing to be able to do this. Currently the following content is not available and cannot be used in broadcast meetings and therefore if you need these, you should be using the traditional web conferencing workloads.
- Desktop Sharing
- Application Sharing
Once you have added content or enabled video your broadcast will be ready to start. You will notice the Start Broadcast button has lit up and you have some control over the broadcast layouts. You can choose from the following 3 options
- Video Only
- Video and Content
- Content Only
Content only will display only the PowerPoint you have shared to the meeting and your audio.
Starting the Broadcast
To start the broadcast and exit the “Green Room” click on the start broadcast button. This will take about 10 to 20 seconds to complete. You will notice the LIVE icon appear when your broadcast is being aired.
Audiences will login to the broadcast using the same link provided to your events team, but would sign in as an attendee rather that a presenter by clicking on Join Meeting
Before the broadcast has started the audience will see the stage curtain “The broadcast has not started”. As an audience member, you do not need any client software, or plugin, but you will need a HTML 5 compatible browser. This means you can watch a Skype Broadcast Meeting on any device Mobile (Cell), iPad, Mac, Linux etc.
Once the broadcast has started, audiences will see the content being shared
Content Only Layout Experience
Content and Video Layout Experience
Video Only Layout Experience
As an audience member, you have the ability to pause the live stream and rewind to the beginning so late arrivals can watch the meeting from the start! ACE. Now we have Catch-up TV!! Other basic controls are volume, screen size and the quality of the video being shown. The following qualities are available together with their suitability.
720p – 1.7mbp/s (Fibre optic or super-fast broadband connections)
540p – 850kbp/s (1mbp/s to 6mbp/s broadband connections)
360p – 500kbp/s (3G or other variable low speed connections)
Producing the Broadcast
During the live broadcast you are able to control content and participants / presenters.
Only one presenter’s video can be streamed at any one time in the broadcast. The broadcast does not support active switching of the video based on who is talking so keep this in mind. To change active video, right click on the presenters thumbnail and choose “Make Active Video for Broadcasting”. Note, video will only be shown if the presenter has started their video in the client!
The active video will be displayed in the user’s thumbnail and indicated with the blue activity line
You can also mute the person(s) in the same way by selecting mute. Note by default all presenters and participants audio will be broadcast in the meeting, so it is a good idea to mute everyone but the currently speaking presenters.
You can control the layout of the meeting when it is in progress and can choose video and content or just either or.
Bringing in other Presenters ad-hoc
You are able to invite other users from within your organisation to the broadcast meeting on an ad-hoc basis when the broadcast is in progress. You can do this by using the native controls you already use such as the invite button or drag and drop. You can also add in federated contacts to the meetings but only if they are connected using the Skype for Business client. At present you are unable to dial presenters in using the PSTN although I am sure the ability will come in future releases.
Important Considerations for Presenters and Producers
The following bullets list the current limitations of the broadcast meetings feature and you should consider these when suggesting a meeting to be broadcast to audiences
- Audience members do not see Instant Messages, but presenters will be able to see and use IM
- Only one video stream can be broadcast at any one time
- After stopping the broadcast, you will not be able to start it again. You must schedule another
- You cannot pause a broadcast
- Annotations on PowerPoints can be seen by presenters but not audience members (sigh)
- Audience experience is approximately 40 seconds behind real time, so when asking verbal questions to audiences and expect a reply on Yammer for instance, be mindful of the lag.
- You cannot dial people into the meeting as presenters
- Video via PowerPoint is not a good idea!
- Need multiple simultaneous video streams in the broadcast – use a Skype for Business Room System and get all presenters in one room!
- No editing or filtering, if you make a mistake – oops! Remember, its LIVE TV!
- Once the broadcast has ended, audience members who have joined will be able to rewind and watch the broadcast again. After the event, anyone who attempts to join will be able to see the broadcast for a period of time after the event.
- Once broadcasts are over, there appears no way at the moment of removing them from past events. Microsoft need to address this and give this control decision to businesses
Post event, presenters are able to view a report of audience members who joined, including the time they joined and left and what browser they used. The report is limited but will server as a guide to how many people joined. For feedback, and opinion data, you should use Yammer and Bing Pulse apps in your broadcasts
Summarising Skype Broadcast Meetings
In specific use cases Skype Broadcast Meetings are a great way of reaching out to your stakeholders and audiences. The fact that the platform can support 10,000 audience members is good, but the real USP of Skype Broadcast Meetings is that you can get your message out to who you need it to reach simply, effectively and quickly and without the cost of your own broadcasting infrastructure. This will be a fantastic marketing, educational and announcement platform and these work streams are where I see its main purpose. However, if you want meetings to be fully interactive, collaborative and productive, use the web conferencing workload we already love and use so much today.
At the moment, if you are considering Skype Broadcast Meetings for your business, then great, you should. But be careful and plan how you are going to use them, understand the limitations and their purpose. I am looking forward to see where Microsoft take this platform in the future.