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Microsoft to launch UK ad-funded online video player

Silverlight a no-show

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Updated Microsoft plans to launch an online TV player in the UK next week, which serves up telly shows long after they've aired on the box.

The software giant's ad-funded MSN Video Player will be made available to Blighty broadband customers and will feature TV programmes from BBC Worldwide and All3Media.

Strangely, though, MSN Video Player won't use Microsoft's browser-based media player Silverlight. It's been reported MSN Video Player will instead use Adobe Systems' Flash - which Microsoft is trying to challenge with Silverlight - and Windows Media Player, which has been losing market share to Silverlight.

Microsoft's been working to lock-down deals with premier providers of media content to stream content using Silverlight in different countries. The idea is to use events to establish Silverlight on users' desktops against Flash.

Notable content providers so-far have included the NBC Beijing Olympics last summer with the coming Winter Olympics coverage from NBC due to be streamed with Silverlight.

There have, though, been technical problems with earlier versions of Silverlight that saw it dropped - notably by MLB.com in the US. MLB was a major early victory for Silverlight, with the site now on Adobe's Flash.

As far as MSN Video Player is concerned, the latest version of Silverlight - version 3.0 released earlier this month - might have been too new and unproven for the advertisers that the BBC is trying to attract. The miss, though, is an important opportunity lost for Silverlight.

MSN corporate vice president Erik Jorgensen said in a prepared statement released to The Reg MSN Video worldwide is on a path to move to Microsoft Silverlight in the coming months and MSN is "deeply committed" to Silverlight. The company was unable to say why the UK player has not used Microsoft's own video streaming tech.

It was the Beeb's commercial arm and All3Media, which produces the likes of Peep Show and How To Look Good Naked, that inked deals with Redmond to allow it to broadcast popular programmes on the new service. Financial details of the agreements were not disclosed.

Microsoft's latest move follows confirmation last week that British telly networks BBC Worldwide, ITV and Channel 4 had agreed to sell their abandoned commercial internet TV platform to Arqiva Ltd.

In February the Competition Commission kyboshed the trio's Kangaroo Project. The antitrust watchdog ruled the three networks bankrolling it would have too much power in that market.

MSN Video Player will launch with 300 hours of content from BBC programmes such as Hustle, Dead Ringers and Jack Dee Live at the Apollo.

However, the shows will only appear on the Flash-only MSN service after the expiry of online catch-up TV on the respective broadcasters' websites.

According to the Times, users will be required to wait at least 180 days after a BBC programme has been transmitted before getting their mitts on it via MSN.

Microsoft's online video player will be wrapped in ads served up by media agencies MediaCom, MindShare and MEC Interaction, during a six-month pilot phase to see if British punters are happy to view stale telly shows that are interrupted with commercials on MSN's service.

Ex-BBC technology chief Ashley Highfield, who quit Project Kangaroo for Microsoft taking on the role of MD and veep of consumer and online in November 2008, told the Guardian that MS had a "fair crack of the whip" with attracting viewers to the service.

However, Arqiva, US online TV service Hulu, which is planning a UK launch of its own, and even "Freeview on Steroids" might yet have something to say about that. ®

This article has been updated to include coverage on Silverlight and comment from Microsoft.

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