Microsoft is launching a new online video player in the United Kingdom. The MSN Video Player will carry library programming from British broadcasters, notably from the BBC. The project is headed by the former chief executive of the Kangaroo project which was blocked by the Competition Commission. The pilot project has already sold out its advertising space for the first six months. Strangely, it will use Adobe Flash, rather than the Microsoft Silverlight alternative.
Ashley Highfield, the managing director of consumer and online at Microsoft in the United Kingdom, left the Kangaroo project just before it was blocked on competition grounds. He was previously director of future media and technology at the BBC.
He told BBC News the MSN Video Player was not about competing with broadcasters but about aggregating their programmes to provide a one-stop shop.
“This is bringing all the programmes together in one place,” he said. “It’s going to be a one-stop shop for recent and older classic British television programmes.” In that sense the proposition is very similar to Kangaroo, although the scope is rather less ambitious, with just 300 hours of programming initially, aimed mainly at young adults.
Asked how it would differ from the BBC iPlayer, which he originally launched before joining Kangaroo, he said that was restricted to BBC programmes from the last week. “We pick up after that and cover everything from a few months ago to a few years ago.”
He said it is not a case of competing with broadcasters. “We’re going to be offering programming just after its been broadcast,” he said. “We’re then going to be bringing all the programming together in this one-stop shop that goes back several years.”
It is understood that BBC material will only be available six months after transmission and only within the United Kingdom.
Quite what is in it for the broadcasters is unclear, beyond a share of advertising revenue, probably with some minimum guarantees, and no need to worry about the cost of the platform or distribution. The BBC already has limited distribution deals with Apple and Google.
“Exploring what works for people in the rapidly expanding on-demand space is important for us, and the MSN Video Player presents a new avenue for us to reach online audiences,” said Simon Danker, the director of digital content partnerships at BBC Worldwide.
The pilot for the MSN Video Player will be based on Adobe Flash, which is hardly an expression of confidence in the competing technology from Microsoft, Silverlight, which is already used by some other online video services, including the offering from Sky.
Transmission infrastructure company Arqiva recently picked up the remaining assets of Kangaroo with plans to launch its own service. Microsoft is meanwhile rushing out its offering before the expected expansion of Hulu into Europe, backed by NBC Universal, News Corporation and ABC Disney. It is also taking advantage of confusion over Canvas, another joint venture between British broadcasters that is likely to face regulatory scrutiny.