By Jack Schofield: Microsoft’s MSN Video site is extending the length of some of the programmes it streams in the UK, having agreed content deals with BBC Worldwide (the BBC’s commercial subsidiary) and All3Media. In a pilot project, MSN Video will offer 350 hours of free content, supported by advertising. More programmes will be introduced as the service gets established.
There are more than a dozen BBC series in the pilot, including The Young Ones, Mock The Week, That Mitchell And Webb Look, What Not To Wear, and Hotel Babylon. The All3Media offerings include Peep Show, Shameless, 10 Years Younger, How To Look Good Naked, and several series featuring Derren Brown.
Programmes come in both WMV (Windows Media Video) and Flash formats, to cater for both PC and Mac users. The streams are optimised for 512kbps broadband, to reach a wide audience, and do not have DRM (Digital Rights Management) copy protection. However, they will not be available to users with IP addresses outside the UK.
The pilot project will not use Silverlight, and will not be available on mobile phones or Xbox games consoles. “We’re starting small,” says MSN UK’s Rob Crossen. “This is really concentrating on the PC, but the cross-platform opportunities are obvious, and there to be taken.”
Crossen says MSN UK reaches about half the UK’s broadband audience, and is second only to the BBC. “We’ve learned to understand the different audiences and their different requirements,” he says. “We’re aiming to be one of the most popular services in VOD .”
Crossen also says Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has already sold all the available advertising slots.
There’s clearly a market for TV’s back catalogue, as shown by the huge success of the Hulu web site in the US. This service — owned by Disney (NYSE: DIS), NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and News Corporation (NYSE: NWS) — has not been available in the UK, but is expected to arrive in September. Hulu offers more than a thousand American TV series, and is expected to add UK programmes as well.
In general, users are attracted to very large content libraries with the widest possible range of choices. This suggests that while regular MSN UK users might well enjoy its limited selection of TV offerings, it will be swamped by Hulu.
MSN Video doesn’t have to make much of an investment to provide its UK service, and it’s using the infrastructure that it already uses to deliver shorter clips, typically up to about 10 minutes. There’s no reason not to offer longer clips now broadband is widely available in the UK. However, it seems very unlikely that MSN Video will have the sort of impact that the BBC’s iPlayer has made as a catch-up service, or that Hulu will make, if its UK site resembles its US service.
MSN Video is probably offering too little, too late.
This article originally appeared in Â© Guardian News & Media Ltd..