NBC Universal and News Corporation are to launch a major new internet video network in the summer. It aims to be the biggest of its kind and is being promoted as the largest advertising platform on Earth. Distribution partners include AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo!. Together they aim to take on Google and YouTube by offering rights protected premium programming online.

The alliance will offer users free video clips and programmes supported by advertising. Each distribution partner will provide a customised player embedded in their online portal.

A new company, based in New York and Los Angeles, will launch the service, which has yet to be officially named. It will be led by an interim management team from NBC and News Corporation.

Aiming to make it the biggest video destination on the web, they have signed up major competitors to Google as distributors. So far, however, they have yet to pull in other programming partners, with whom they are engaged in continuing discussions.

“This is a game changer for Internet video,” said Peter Chernin, president and chief operating officer of News Corp. “We’ll have access to just about the entire U.S. internet audience at launch. For the first time, consumers will get what they want — professionally produced video delivered on the sites where they live.”

“This venture supercharges our distribution of protected, quality content to fans everywhere,” said Jeff Zucker, the president and chief executive of NBC Universal. “Consumers get a hugely attractive aggregation of a wide range of content, and marketers get a novel way to connect with a large and highly engaged audience.”

At launch, the service will feature clips and full episodes of hit television shows and mainstream movies. Also promised are personalised playlists, online communities and video mashups.

Randy Falco, the head of AOL, said it is “further proof that the internet is now a full-fledged entertainment medium”.

Microsoft said the alliance “proves that you can deliver quality online video entertainment and protect intellectual property and copyright at the same time”. The software company is meanwhile climbing down from its own Soapbox service. Microsoft has suspended its video sharing initiative to new users while it attempts to deal with copyright issues.

Peter Levinsohn, president of Fox Interactive Media, the News Corporation company that now owns MySpace, said: “The ability to embed video clips within over 160 million profile pages will empower members of the MySpace community to view, share and truly interact with some of the entertainment world’s most popular content.”

Terry Semel, the head of Yahoo!, said it underscored their “respect for content owners and copyrights and positions us as one of the premier distribution sites on the web for entertainment programming”.

This is an example of mainstream media responding to the threat and opportunity of ubiquitous distribution of digital media. Time will tell how a top-down corporate approach will take on the bottom-up model that has characterized internet innovation.