Commentary

Streaming Leaders: MSN Video

While other sites have been trying to figure out online video for years, MSN took its time and started testing its video service just one year ago. Despite the late start, MSN Video has quickly grown into one of the leaders in the space.

It helps, of course, that MSN is one of the largest sites on the Internet, attracting over 60 million visitors each month. When you've got that many users, some of them are bound to click the "video" link on the home page.

It also helps that MSN has a long-standing partnership with NBC, and was able to go live with clips from "NBC Nightly News," "The Today Show," "Dateline," and other NBC programs. Even mature online video properties envy that type of content.

What helped most of all, though, was a partnership with Starcom MediaVest Group (SMVG), one of the largest media buying agencies in the world. SMVG worked with MSN to develop MSN Video, and placed a large upfront buy on the property that helped get the ball rolling.

The MSN Video site features a unique interactive interface that lets users program their own video experience. By dragging video images into a queue, visitors can decide which clips to watch, and in which order.

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MSN doesn't disclose how many clips it streams each month, but estimates put the number in the high tens of millions. With all those content clips being shown, of course, comes the opportunity for advertising.

Joanne Bradford, MSN's chief media revenue officer, has come out strongly in favor of 15-second in-stream ads. She believes that 30 seconds is just too long for Internet users, and worries that visitors will abandon longer ads, costing both sites and advertisers a chance to reach them.

I agree with Bradford. Fifteen seconds is the right length for in-stream video ads. But in reality, online video sites have little choice in the matter. Too many advertisers only have 30-second spots, and too many more would demand to run a 30-second spot even if a 15-second spot was available.

MSN reports that although most SMVG clients are running the shorter spots, the majority of advertisers are sticking with 30-second ads.

Users are served in-stream ads when they first start the MSN Video player, and then between content clips. While MSN says they'll eventually play as many as one ad for every two clips, the frequency seems much lower than that right now. All in-stream ads come with a companion banner to encourage user response.

After a lengthy test period, Microsoft formally launched MSN Video with a road show in August and September of this year. It took them a while, but it looks like MSN has put together an in-stream video offering that was worth the waiting.

Next week, I'll continue my look at the leaders in in-stream video.

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