Thursday, September 21, 2006

Microsoft has launched the beta release of Soapbox, a video service similar to the popular site

As part of its MSN Video offering, Microsoft has launched the beta release of Soapbox, a video service similar to the popular site that lets users upload their own videos. Soapbox will be available through MSN’s existing video site, and will also be integrated with the company’s other online services, including Windows Live Spaces and Windows Live Messenger.

MSN Video is already one of the largest video-only streaming services on the Web, drawing more than 11 million unique users per month, according to Microsoft. Its online channel streams news, entertainment, and sports video clips from 45 content partners, including MSNBC, Fox Entertainment, JibJab Media, and the “Today” show. The video service is available at no cost at

Inside the Box

The addition of a user-generated component of the MSN site rounds out the company’s investment in video, according to Rob Bennett, general manager of entertainment and video services for MSN.

With Soapbox, users can upload and share video with only a few steps. Background server-side video processing is designed to accept all major digital video formats.

Users can also find videos by either searching directly or browsing through 15 categories. Video sharing will be encouraged, and MSN Video allows viewers to comment on and tag the videos they view, as well as embed the Soapbox player directly on their Web site or blog.

Big Draw

Soapbox will be offered to only a limited number of users during its invitation-only beta phase, designed to work out the bugs before a public launch. But it should be made widely available within six months, Microsoft noted.

In launching the video service, MSN will go into direct competition with YouTube, which has enjoyed significant success after less than a year of operation. The site, which lets users upload personal videos, had 34 million visitors in August, according to Nielsen//NetRatings.

The larger benefit for MSN is that once it has more people visiting the site, it then has greater ability to deliver advertising to them, noted IDC analyst Sue Feldman.

“Big deals and innovations that are designed to drive people to a site are really mostly about advertising,” she said. “They just want to get the messages in front of as many eyeballs as possible.”

MySpace video receives 17.9 million visitors a month and Google Video attracts 13.5 million each month, according to Nielsen.

“Microsoft is jumping on this bandwagon with some uncertainty with where it’s going, but the company believes it needs to be on board,” Joe Wilcox, an analyst at Jupiter Research, told Reuters news agency.

The testing period is by invitation only although users are encouraged to apply for invitation on the website.

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