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MSN Now Properly Pitching UK TV, Video Site To Advertisers

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Ashley Highfield is getting to reboot his online video ambitions after all, after concluding MSN UK’s catch-up TV pilot presents a rich enough commercial seam to tap full-time.

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) acquired licenses for 300 hours of BBC Worldwide and All3Media shows for a trial service last summer, a year after Highfield – who previously ran the BBC online and the prohibited Project Kangaroo VOD JV – joined as MD and VP of its UK consumer and online business.

On Thursday, it combines MSN UK’s short-clips and long-form sections, and is adding more shows from RDF, Endemol, Shed, Digital Rights Group, Raw Cut and Content FIlm. MSN still has no direct broadcaster deals, so it’s by no means a top-tier TV aggregator to rival the many others in that race currently, but it does have these indie deals, giving it many shows that appear on telly anyway, a total 1,000 hours.

“The six-month pilot is going full commercial launch,” MSN UK executive producer Peter Bale tells paidContent:UK. “The pilot has worked. We’ve had a terrific response from our advertisers.

Videos will have one pre-roll and one post-roll video add plus a slide-out display ad. Ad sales are done in-house, by Microsoft Advertising. “We’re having a very high number of people sit through the ads, because there aren’t many,” Bale said.

So, after the Kangaroo knock-back, Highfield again gets to try out a web video aggregator? “There’s a happy coincidence,” Bale said. “We already had a video product delivering short-form. It was a relatively easy step, technologically, to expand that in to long-form – his background made that easier to do.” Microsoft signed a deal with TV producers’ trade group PACT in November.

It’s clearly worth a punt at offering more space for the fast-growing online video advertising sector. But, without direct broadcaster deals, MSN’s rejigged video play won’t necessarily pose a direct challenge to the likes of YouTube and SeeSaw, which have each won Channel 4 and Five shows by offering those broadcasters control of their own ad sales. One conclusion – it may be more of a value-add to existing MSN users than a go-to destination for other folks.

“We always talk to the broadcasters,” Bale said. “It’s publicly obvious that ITV (LSE: ITV) and Channel 4 have made different decisions what their current video-on-demand strategy is.” But, when read a laundry list of potential UK VOD competitors including Hulu, he adds: “Ours is out there – and it’s been out there and profitable for six months – several of those are not out there. We deserve credit for getting it out there. It’s a very busy market and likely to become moreso in the next few months.”

Although Microsoft says its main U.S. MSN will redesign in the next two weeks, there’s no accompanying relaunch for the UK network. “I wouldn’t expect to see a significant change to the UK site for some months yet – there is a lot of work to be done,” Bale says.

“We’re working on all sorts of things that reflect their learnings – we’re going to do some UK-specific things on the homepage that take in to account their experience.”