MSN Video: Precision, But No Passion

Excitement isn’t a word that comes to mind when you think of Microsoft (MSFT), and the new version of MSN Video probably won’t change that, because while technically, Microsoft did a good job, there’s no passion. Online video is exciting. It’s amazing that we can watch almost anything at anytime. I just wish the Redmond giant was as enthusiastic about it as I am. Apparently not. I took the new site for a test drive, and was, well, underwhelmed.

Layout: The new look has a split-screen approach — video playback on the right-hand side, search and additional content on the left — the idea being that you can watch video and search simultaneously. This is good for a multi-tasking generation. But while the layout is clean and thankfully uncluttered, the standard square thumbnails lined up in neat columns gives the page a lackluster, tiled effect.

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Advertisements: As reported here earlier, MSN is shifting to a time-based approach to ad serving. So instead of seeing a 30-second pre-roll after every clip you watch, you now get one every three minutes. Which is still a lot, but I’m a little more forgiving than the average viewer, so I didn’t mind. Serving video ain’t cheap, and someone’s got to pay the bills.

If only MSN were more creative! (You’ve got loads of money; spend some of it!) Pre-rolls, whiled loved by advertisers, aren’t the only solution. Plus with every pre-roll, an accompanying ad from the same brand flies out from the side of the player, obscuring the other available content.

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Content: I was surprised by how stale the content was. The “Editor’s Picks” in the movies category prominently featured a clip of Borat giving an interview (added 10 months ago), and The Santa Clause 3 (added 11 months ago). Additionally, some channels listed (HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network) in the navigation didn’t have any content in them whatsoever. To have them listed as partners at launch and have nothing there is just sloppy.

Features: The video player offers standard features such as creating playlists and sharing via email. But it doesn’t offer true embeds, only a fake embed that’s basically a glorified link with a picture. Lame. Following is exactly how the “embed” code appears. New Hope for Sallie Mae?
New Hope for Sallie Mae?

The most annoying “feature” and one that ruined the whole experience for me was the autoplay, where a new video automatically plays after you finish watching one. MSN, can you give me a sec to figure out what I want to watch before you tell me? I made the mistake of choosing a news clip about a two-headed turtle. I was subsequently served the following video freakshow parade:

Two-headed turtle –> Two-headed cow from Countdown with Keith Olbermann –> Same two-headed cow from a local TV news station –> Another two-headed turtle –> a comedy bit about Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan. At least the relevance is working.

Search: The search functionality works fine, offering up results from MSN Video, Soapbox (MSN’s user-generated video content site), and from the web. There were no blatant issues with relevance that I found, though when I searched for “Britney Spears” “fire” and “dogs” the “web” results all pointed to news stations; none led to other video-sharing sites.

I did contact MSN’s PR firm while writing this post to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, but my call wasn’t returned. What I’d love to hear back is that the people who built MSN Video are excited about what they do and that they promise to infuse some of that energy into the next release.

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