So MSN have just taught be a lesson in regards to the word BETA! With news of the launch of the new MSN Video Player I trialled the service yesterday (it was in public Beta) ahead of the commercial launch this morning. My review of their Beta site was scathing to be honest and I thought maybe Ashley Highfield had gone and jumped the shark on us. But just as I was about to post this morning, I went back again – and the full launch version is nothing like the Beta version. I was looking forward to ripping into Microsoft, just not sure I can anymore.
The background to the launch can be found on other sites, but what interests me is whether this service is being launched as a direct competitor to the likes of SeeSaw and Canvas – or is just seen as a part of the MSN offering.
The navigation is strong, such an improvement on the Beta version. There are only 3 main headings Categories, Full TV Shows and Movies – with a Queue button at the end, which does not seem to be working yet!
The Categories section then has a subnav which lets you get a full flavour of the offering – Games, MSN originals, News, Sport, TV Clips and Viral. This is a strong point of differentiation from SeeSaw, this service is not just catering for TV Shows but is aiming to be a one stop shop for video content. The Games section for example breaks down further into Features, Reviews as well as the expected Trailers. MSN Orginals has interviews with the likes of Cheryl Cole, Jedward and Kelly Brooks. The News section is a nice idea, bringing together content from SKY and ITN and covering both breaking news and also human interest stories.
It is their TV strategy though that I really like and will eventually pay dividends for them. They have not followed the SeeSaw route and done deals with channel brands, but have gone direct to the production companies. This means that they can sort all content by genre, rather than being anchored down by having to build in channel brands to the navigation. I’m a firm believer that this is the route forward – people search for programs, not channels. One downside is that the show branded pages of the Beta version have gone – this means that the site becomes a bit bland as you navigate around, it lacks personality or any real brand values.
The Movies section at the moment is really just trailers – but what a week to launch with the stunning trailers for Tron and Iron Man2 being able to grace your homepage. You can’t think that it will be to long before a premium service is added and full length movies are available here.
The content strategy here is almost without fault in my opinion; they’ve pulled together nearly all the relevant video content into one place, and managed to create a navigation system which means that discovery is relatively easy.
Commercially they’ve followed the SeeSaw strategy of having two pre rolls before the programming, but what I really liked (as an advertiser) is that the preroll is supplemented by a small banner in the top left of the site. It’s a nice supporting function – though as I watch Doc Martin the banner is empty with a message “Visit our Advertiser”. Unlike SeeSaw you also don’t seem to be able to skip the midroll adverts either, if you try and jump to the end of a program, you’ll get the midroll before it starts playing.
But what is missing again is the social interaction that Hulu does so well. There is the ability to share – but this is literally just a link that you can copy and paste. There is no ability to link through to Facebook or Twitter, no ability to rate, comment, and recommend programming to your peers. In this sense we have another provider that has missed a trick. And the metadata is dull, pointless and useless to be honest. Who wants to know that the episode of Doc Martin I’m watching first aired on the 1st September 2004, or that the rights were provided by the Digital Rights Group? There is so much more that can/should be done with metadata in this environment.
Overall the service is nicely designed (though I’d disagree with @TNW when they call it eye candy), though lacks any real personality. The content strategy is excellent with its diverse range differentiating it from other catch up services – and most importantly allowing for easy scaling of the service in future.
The poor metadata and lack of social interaction both need to be worked on – though my eye keeps going back to the Queue button and wondering what that will bring in the future?
Highfield has produced a very nice video service and with his content strategy has created a service which does manage to differentiate itself. He certainly hasn’t jumped the shark on this one, and has delivered a very solid, if slightly uninspiring, service.
But we’re still waiting for our Hulu – the service that will make TV truly social, that will have a discovery engine at its core. Perhaps we’re all waiting for Project Canvas – I don’t think so, I still think the innovation in this area is going to come from an unknown company, working away at the moment in anonymity.
There is one thing that MSN, SeeSaw et al are all missing – something that many who have run adult VOD services for years know all about – but that is for another posting….