MSN Video Boosts Features; Sets Sight on Local

Summary

At Microsoft’s recent Searchification event in Silicon Valley, the company demo’d a new set of features for Live Search and MSN. Today I had the chance to follow up with MSN’s Rob Bennett, GM of entertainment video and sports, to drill down on some of the enhancements specifically made to MSN Video. Among other things, Bennett’s outlook on video opportunities ties back to local, given some of the natural synergies his division will have with Windows Live Local and Live Maps.

Blending the Head and the Tail

Microsoft was one of the first online networks to embrace video with MSN Video’s launch in early 2004, and has taken the approach of mostly filling its inventory with professionally produced content, rather than the user-generated content that dominates the streams of YouTube, Google Video and others.

This “head” content is more easily monetizable, agreed Rob Bennett, MSN GM of entertainment, video and sports. But UGC still has value in its popularity and ability to draw users in — one of the reasons for MSN’s Soapbox launch in last year. The thought is that although this tail content sometimes isn’t directly monetizable on a unit-by-unit basis, the traffic it creates can be monetized in other ways.

“There are ways to monetize user-generated content without monetizing every individual clip,” says Bennett. “We know there are funny, popular viral videos we could use as a hook. Then three or four clips later they realized they have also watched an MSNBC clip or something from National Geographic that has an ad in it.”

This will happen through a new video ad delivery model that includes an initial pre-roll ad and subsequent ads that are delivered based on a user’s session length (more explained here). There are also small ad overlays, within the video windows, similar to those developed by YouTube, ScanScout and others.

“In the next year we’ll continue to develop the behavioral and geotargeting abilities,” says Bennett, “and we’re always looking at how to crack that contextual nut.”

What About Local?

But the applicability to local search is what interested me most. As local video advertising is following the general popularity of online video, there is an opportunity to redirect some of Bennett’s video efforts toward Microsoft’s Live Maps and Live Local, where they can enhance the experience of local business lookups, a la Citysearch.

“We’ve been developing Soapbox with an eye in that direction to have a general purpose video submission processing and transcoding,” says Bennett. “So if AdCenter or Atlas [AdManager] want to use our back end to let people submit video and move it into the inventory system, we can enable that.”

Though there is nothing on the books to do this, Bennett acknowledges the opportunity, and internal conversations are happening. Taking this a step further, there are also opportunities to begin to produce ad creative that is repurposed in different venues.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for someone to come along and be the Spot Runner of online distribution,” says Bennett, “and provide a dashboard for people to submit core elements of the creative — images, video clips text — and then the back end spits out different versions of the creative that are optimized for specific media.”

Taking this a step further, it seems Microsoft also has the opportunity to repurpose audio components of rich media advertising to the voice search products of its Tellme subsidiary. This is similar to Google’s opportunity (explored here) to repurpose radio spots from DMarc to potential ad content in its growing 1-800-GOOG-411 initiative.

Universal Appeal

Lastly, video will grow throughout Windows Live and MSN networks. As users are moving away from the traditional media paradigm of consuming content in disparate buckets (television, radio, newspapers, Yellow Pages); they are coming to expect all forms of content in all places online.

For Microsoft, this means there will be video content shown more pervasively throughout search results, news articles, classified listings and anywhere else that is relevant.

This gets to the general “feature vs. destination” concept in which video (and social media for that matter) should be thought of as an increasingly important feature of all destinations, rather than a primary attraction of a standalone destination.

“One thing you’ll see over the next year is that we’ll increase the surface area of video across the network so it’s not just isolated to one destination,” says Bennett. “You’ll be able to watch video on pages of relevant articles and see more video coverage pretty much everywhere.

“We have 465 million people around the world that spend time with us, so the goal is to get them to watch more video and get the flywheel spinning.”

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Related: A set of TKG reports was recently released on video search and monetization (summaries here and here).

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