Microsoft moots hire for YouTube rival in UK

Microsoft is to bring in agency support for its new video-sharing venture Soapbox, a rival to YouTube, ahead of its UK launch.

The website opened in the US to an audience of invited users earlier this week. It is hoped the full version will be ready to go live early in 2007.

‘There are plans to release Soapbox in the UK, but as yet no confirmed date is available,' Justin Dewhirst, head of MSN portal business management, told PRWeek.

He said: ‘At the moment the site is by invitation only in order to gather customer feedback and ensure the highest-quality experience for the final release. ‘Access to the test version of the website will expand over time as existing testers invite a limited number of friends.'

An agency brief for Soapbox's UK launch has yet to be drawn up. Microsoft would not comment further on its UK strategy for Soapbox.

The new venture will sit inside the MSN Video division, which is currently promoted by The Red Consultancy. Red's contract is not under review. The MSN Video offering has previously focused on premium content from partners such as NBC News.

Soapbox will offer the same features as other video-sharing and social networking sites such as YouTube or MySpace but with added extras, Microsoft said.

YouTube had about 34 million users last month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings stats, while MSN Video had around 12 million. Youth-oriented networking sites are the fastest-growing area of the internet.

Other popular networking sites in the UK include Yahoo!-owned Flickr, Bebo, Secondlife and WeeWorld.

Microsoft will be hoping its financial muscle and brand profile will help Soapbox leapfrog the competition, despite its relative lateness to market.

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