Microsoft Launching Online Video Service

Microsoft Corp. is hoping to tap the explosive popularity of online video sharing by joining startups and major Internet rivals with its own video service.

"Soapbox on MSN Video" will let Internet users watch and post videos, rate or comment on them and share favorites by e-mailing them or linking them to their personal Web pages or blogs.

Rob Bennett, general manager of MSN's entertainment and video services unit, acknowledged that Silicon Valley startup YouTube Inc. has an early lead, having already attracted tens of millions of users in the year and a half since it launched. Rivals Google Inc., Yahoo Inc. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL also have similar offerings.

But Microsoft believes there is "still plenty of room to innovate, and go beyond what I would say most services provide ... just sort of the basics, a very kind of primitive experience that is not that engaging," Bennett said. "It's not that fun to use. It just gets the job done."

During a preview Monday, Bennett said Soapbox videos will be displayed in slightly larger windows than those competing services offer, and users will be able to expand videos to the full screen while they are playing, rather than having to jump back to the beginning and start over.

Soapbox will group videos in various categories, including most recent, most viewed, most commented on and top favorites. It will let users "tag" clips with keywords designed to make them easier for people to find.

A beta "test" version will initially be available on an invitation-only basis to some Microsoft employees and regular MSN testers, Bennett said. He said Soapbox will be expanded to a wider audience "very quickly," but he could not say how soon.

Though Microsoft has some catching up to do, Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox said it is jumping into online video sharing more quickly than it's done in other newly emerging and competitive fields.

"Right now with video, everybody's throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks," Wilcox said, "and since everybody else is throwing spaghetti, Microsoft is throwing its own."

Wilcox suggested Microsoft's success with Soapbox will hinge on how much traction it gains with people who want to share their videos with tight-knit networks of family and friends.

"YouTube reaches the bazillions," Wilcox said, "but while Soapbox can do that, Microsoft's emphasis will be the people that you or you at the center with concentric circles going outward."

Microsoft hasn't yet pinned down its strategy for making money off Soapbox. Bennett said the company is considering various options for incorporating advertising, including posting ads directly on pages with videos or hosting advertiser-sponsored contests that seek video contributions from users.

Soapbox will support a maximum file size of 100 megabytes -- comparable to YouTube and Yahoo -- and will work on computers running both Microsoft Windows and Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh computers. It will work with either Microsoft's Internet Explorer or Mozilla's Firefox Web browsers and accept the major media formats, including Windows Media Player and Apple's QuickTime.


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