Because YouTube shouldn't have all the fun, Microsoft has launched a video-sharing service of its own. Officially in test mode, Soapbox is entering what many see as a supersaturated market, at present led by YouTube, which drew a staggering 34 million visitors in August.
Until Soapbox officially goes live six months from now, Microsoft is sending trial invitations to a small community of users. Ads will not accompany Soapbox during its beta run.
At one time, MSN Video once was the most popular video service online, until the likes of Yahoo, MySpace and YouTube rode to dominance on a wave of user-generated content. Rob Bennett, general manager of MSN's entertainment and video services, is confident that MSN can regain its footing.
"We're definitely not blind to the fact that YouTube has a big lead right now," Mr. Bennett said. "It's really early days in online video. This is still act one."
Available for various browsers
Whereas once MSN Video was restricted to Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser and Windows Media Player, the software giant said it will make Soapbox available for various browsers including Mozilla Firefox and even Apple's Safari. Additionally, Soapbox will support a range of video file formats and delivery methods.
Since March, the number of YouTube monthly visitors has nearly tripled while MSN Video remained mostly unchanged at less than 12 million users. MySpace video quadrupled to 17.9 million visitors a month and monthly Google Video users rose 70% to 13.5 million over the last six months, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
MSN Video presently attracts some 11 million monthly unique users. Like rival portals' video offerings, MSN carries streaming news, entertainment and sports video clips from more than 45 content partners including "Today," Fox Sports, MSNBC, JibJab Media and Fox Entertainment Group.