5 reasons Microsoft won’t be able to beat YouTube

Earlier I wrote a little about the three reasons why YoutTube works. YouTube is not the only video web site out there, and new competitors are popping up all the time. One that should be taken seriously is Microsoft's new Soapbox service, said to be launching soon as part of MSN (not Windows Live Spaces, where it might seem to better belong).

Microsoft is huge, and MSN has a ton of users. YouTube is a big, fat target. Very few details about Soapbox have been released, but here are five reasons why Microsoft won't be able to unseat YouTube as king of video on the web:

1. Digital Rights Management (DRM). I can't imagine Microsoft not including some sort of draconian DRM scheme in with this system. While it's true YouTube doesn't invite users to download and save clips, they don't do that much to prevent it either. But that's not really the issue—the issue is transparency. If Soapbox's DRM slows you down, adds extra steps to the process, or prevents users from doing what they want to do, it will be a big minus for most people. Also, let's face it, Microsoft will be much better about clearing off commercial content than YouTube has been. Not all viral videos come from NBC and other partner sites.

2. Integration. Microsoft sees integration as a plus – they have millions of MSN users after all. But I'm guessing integration won't stop there – Microsoft seems to have an attitude that everything must drive people back toward Microsoft. Will you be able to use Soapbox on a Mac or Linux box (a small percentage of viewers, but perhaps a larger percentage of video makers)? Will you be able to use it with Firefox, or with an older version of Windows? Will you need to download a Windows XP service pack so that viruses aren't automatically downloaded? You might laugh at that last one, but I wouldn't be too surprised.

3. Branding. I like the Soapbox name, it's catchy and you get the meaning immediately. But since Soapbox will be part of MSN, it won't have as much of it's own identity and won't be as much of a destination on it's own. Web sites are often most successful when they stand on their own, and do one thing really well. Google means search, MySpace means socializing, Digg means cool new links, and YouTube means video clips. MSN might mean “incredibly great portal,� but a part of MSN will have a hard time looking like something other than a part of MSN.

4. Missing the point. In a video clip on Beet.TV Todd Herman, director of Advertising and Business Strategy at MSN, talks about out-TiVo-ing TiVo and embracing placelessness. I think he is mostly right about how people want to watch television shows and movies, but not really barking up the tree YouTube is sitting in. Like I said in my last article, YouTube is all about clips. YouTube is to movies and TV what web pages are to books.

5. Fitting in the web. No one will know until they launch, but I bet Microsoft will miss YouTube's innovation number 3: Giving the Internet a way to link to videos, and giving television clips a way to exist on the Internet. This is the most important one. People need to be able to bookmark videos, copy and paste URLs into emails, use the Back button, link to videos in blogs, and do all the other things you can do with other web pages. If it takes longer to put a Soapbox video on your MySpace page than a YouTube video, they've missed the point.

None of this is to say that Soapbox will be a miserable failure. It might make a ton of money. But I bet a year from now, when someone directs you to a Colbert Report clip, it will be on YouTube, not Soapbox.

Let me know if I'm off-base in the comments section below.

  1. YouTube also has geriatric1927 “telling it all” and culture killer’s “The Simpsons vs. Star Trek.” Oh… and Chad Vader, with his desire for a “more powerful laser check-out system.”

    Doug Lefelhocz
    September 16th, 2006 at 11:33 pm
  2. I’m willing to bet that Soapbox won’t run on Firefox. MSN games is fairly huge and it doesn’t run on Firefox.

    DRM will be a huge problem, no doubt. Mostly I think because the TV and movies from which clips will stolen (among other things) would much rather come out and stick it to Microsoft to get some of their cash than bother dealing with YouTube.

    I predict soapbox will turn into a nice NBC showcase where we can get NBC shows, like how AOL gives us Time Warner shows, to compete with AOL. YouTube is so established and Web 2.0 users have embraced it…I don’t see how MSN is going to make a dent by being in the SAME market as YouTube. When was the last time you saw a good exclusive Google Video clip?

    September 17th, 2006 at 9:59 pm
  3. I received a beta invite of Soapbox and checked out the service.
    Looks like all of you assumptions are incorrect.

    1. No draconian DRM sceme is used.
    2. Works on all platforms, PC, Mac and Linux
    3. Works great on Firefox and Safari.
    4. Worked on my Windows 2000 box.
    5. Looks like Internet Explorer is delivered a Windows Media stream. Firefox and Safari is delivered a progressive Flash download file.
    6. Their Flash embedded player is awesome. The Playlist function lets you
    play multiple videos.
    7. Quality of video was a lot better than YouTube.

    I was sketical at first since it was MS, but they won me over.

    October 7th, 2006 at 5:24 pm
  4. “But I bet a year from now, when someone directs you to a Colbert Report clip, it will be on YouTube, not Soapbox”

    If Google buys YouTube, in a year you won’t find any copyrighted clips
    (including the Colbert Report) on YouTube.

    October 7th, 2006 at 10:26 pm

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