Microsoft has decided to terminate MSN Soapbox, their troubled entry in the personal video Web site space:
"We have decided to shut down the Soapbox feature," said Microsoft Vice President and MSN leader Erik Jorgensen in an e-mail. "Beginning today, July 21, we will be notifying both our customers and our internal and external partners that on July 29th, people will no longer be able to upload videos to Soapbox and on August 31st, the service will no longer be available."
Microsoft will continue to support MSN Video, which has 88 million unique users each month and delivers 480 million video streams each month, he said. Soapbox was responsible for less than 5 percent of MSN Video’s streams.
The hook for Soapbox was the social networking features, but apparently they were insufficient to lure the folks who love to video their personal whines for the delectation of others away from Google’s YouTube. Of course, it isn’t clear there is really a business in any of these video Web sites since YouTube is still finding it hard to make money with their overwhelming market share and many videos much more amenable to advertising than personal ramblings.
Viacom apparently isn’t put off by Microsoft’s abandonment of the URGE music service that their MTV subsidiary created with Microsoft, because they have signed on for a new long term advertising and content deal.
Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA and VIA.B) and Microsoft Corp. today announced a broad-based, strategic alliance under which major divisions of both companies will collaborate on advertising, content distribution, event promotions and games over the next several years.
News Corporation and NBC Universal will launch the largest Internet video distribution network ever assembled with the most sought-after content from television and film, it was announced today by Jeff Zucker, President and Chief Executive Officer, NBC Universal and Peter Chernin, President and Chief Operating Officer, News Corporation. The video-rich site will debut this summer with thousands of hours of full-length programming, movies and clips, representing premium content from at least a dozen networks and two major film studios.
AOL, MSN, MySpace and Yahoo! will be the new site’s initial distribution partners. Their users, who represent 96 percent of the monthly U.S. unique users on the Internet, will have unlimited access to the site’s vast library of content. This media alliance will offer consumers free long- and short-form video and create a compelling platform for advertisers, targeting the rapidly growing audience of online video consumers. Charter advertisers include Cadbury Schweppes, Cisco, Esurance, Intel and General Motors.
At launch, full episodes and clips from current hit shows, including Heroes, 24, House, My Name Is Earl, Saturday Night Live, Friday Night Lights, The Riches, 30 Rock, The Simpsons, The Tonight Show, Prison Break, Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader and Top Chef, plus hits from the studios’ vast television libraries, will be available free, on an ad-supported basis, within a rich consumer experience featuring personalized video playlists, mashups, online communities and video search. Plus, the extensive programming lineup will include fan favorite films like Borat, Little Miss Sunshine, Devil Wears Prada, The Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy with bonus materials and movie trailers. Post-launch, plans will be considered for acquiring additional content as well as producing and licensing original programming for the new site’s audience.
Its launch distribution partners will provide the biggest potential reach of any player on the Internet. Moreover, the new site will actively seek agreements with a variety of additional distribution partners.
“This partnership is completely aligned with our continued investment in video on MSN and will allow hundreds of millions of our consumers to tune into a vast library of high-quality, safe and legal online video,” said Kevin Johnson, President, Platform and Services Division, Microsoft. “Our alliance proves that you can deliver quality online video entertainment and protect intellectual property and copyright at the same time. We look forward to working together to explore additional opportunities to distribute this content across other Microsoft services and devices.”
YouTube isn’t mentioned by name in the press release, but you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
Aside from the fact that it seems more about distribution than about network, the real question is how much YouTube will be hurt by the loss of commercial video in the face of its continued dominance in displaying the amateur variety. Of course, YouTube would be invited to join the network in less than a New York minute if they agreed to the media companies’ revenue sharing terms.
Update: Kevin Johnson’s formal statement is here. Best line:
Today’s announcement is a great win for MSN’s more than 460 million consumers and for online video more broadly.
Golly, such a deal!
It’s one of those inexplicable yet delicious occurrences that set the digerati buzzing (cf. Techmeme, Megite). Microsoft lawyer Thomas Rubin, apparently having nothing better to do, decided to publicly slap Google over Google Book Search while simultaneously touting Microsoft’s competitive endeavor, Windows Live Search Books.
Background: Both Google and Microsoft are scanning and indexing printed books for the Web. Both include out of copyright works and both also include copyrighted works where they have reached agreement with the publishers and either now share ad revenue with the publisher or provide purchase links (Google) or plan to in the future (Microsoft). Google, however, also provides what they feel to be “fair use” excerpts of copyrighted works even if they have not reached an agreement with the copyright holder. This has given rise to lawsuits from aggrieved publishers which are still in the courts.
Microsoft is taking aim at Google Inc.’s rival book-scanning project, saying the search company “systematically violates copyright.”
In prepared remarks he is scheduled to deliver Tuesday to a publishing industry group, a Microsoft Corp. lawyer also said Google is cutting into the profits of authors and publishers.
“Companies that create no content of their own, and make money solely on the backs of other people’s content, are raking in billions through advertising revenue,” wrote Thomas C. Rubin, an associate general counsel at Microsoft, in the speech he planned to give at the annual meeting of the Association of American Publishers in New York.
Sounds like a description that could be applied to all Web search providers, or at least the successful ones. As Matthew Ingram notes, “This is almost a word-for-word transcription of the argument that gets trotted out by everyone from the World Newspaper Association to the Belgian agency Copiepresse…” What can Mr. Rubin be thinking?
“But Google’s track record of protecting copyrights in other parts of its business is weak at best,” wrote Rubin. “Anyone who visits YouTube, which Google purchased last year, will immediately recognize that it follows a similar cavalier approach to copyright.”
I guess we now know what really rankles, although Mr. Rubin apparently doesn’t spend much time at MSN Soapbox which has a similar problem.
The full text of Rubin’s remarks yields more of the same whining boosterism for Microsoft as the protector of copyright holders, but the real question is what purpose is served by this foolishness? Microsoft’s Don Dodge asks the same question on his personal blog and concludes it is all a lame attempt at generating good public relations. That’s about as favorable an interpretation as I can put on it too.