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MSN launches free streaming video

Microsoft has announced a UK service that will stream full-length videos of television shows for free.

The advertising-funded MSN Video Player will be available from next week and will include over 300 hours of shows.

Microsoft said it will continue to extend the service, adding content by working with broadcasters and studios.

The "beta", or trial, service features material from the BBC's commercial subsidiary BBC Worldwide and ALL3MEDIA, including Peep Show and Shameless.

Microsoft's Ashley Highfield on the new MSN Video Player

Programmes will be available in both Windows Media Video (WMV) and Flash formats, to cater for both PC and Mac users.

Initially, the pilot will not use Microsoft's Silverlight platform, widely touted as a flash alternative.

The project is an offshoot of the established MSN Video, which offers short video clips ranging from music to sport and news.

The video service ranked fifth in the UK in a recent survey of video-on-demand sites.

Ashley Highfield, Microsoft's managing director and vice president of consumer and online, said the firm is hoping to use its "unparalleled reach" to offer content to the 23% of UK consumers who watch video online.

Programmes will be streamed without DRM (Digital Rights Management) copy protection but will only be available to people with a UK web address.

The service will go head-to-head with other catch-up services such as the BBC's iPlayer and Hulu, which is expected to launch in the UK later in the year.

Hulu is an ad-funded service - owned by News Corporation, Disney and NBC Universal - that has quickly become popular in the US since its 2008 launch, offering thousands of hours of programming.

Unlike the BBC's iPlayer, Hulu and the MSN Video Player is not yet available on mobile devices.

Simon Danker, director of digital content partnerships at BBC Worldwide, said: "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."

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