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MSN debuts beta of free video-streaming

Microsoft launches a test version of a new streaming-video service, which it hopes will challenge rivals RealNetworks, Yahoo and America Online.

Microsoft launched on Tuesday a free streaming-video service, in hopes of challenging rivals RealNetworks, Yahoo and America Online.

MSN Video, which has initially been launched as a test version, offers video clips from NBC and MSNBC.com, as well as content from programs such as "NBC Nightly News, "Dateline NBC," "Today," "Meet the Press" and CNBC. Microsoft said it plans on adding other content partners outside of the NBC family of stations, but it would not elaborate on those plans.

"This is a very initial version of service," said Lisa Gurry, group product manager for MSN. "When it's fully available this winter, it won't just have news content. It will have other categories of content as well."

MSN Video marks the latest step by Microsoft to bolster MSN against its Internet rivals. The service will compete against existing offerings such as RealNetworks' RealOne, Yahoo Platinum and AOL for Broadband, all of which are subscription-only services that offer content from a variety of sources.

The move is also a departure for Microsoft, which has added subscriptions to many of its Web services, including wireless access, photos, online radio, bill payment, greeting cards and online gaming.

Unlike its competitors, MSN Video offers content for free. RealNetworks and Yahoo charge $9.95 a month and share their subscription revenue with their content partners, such as television networks and sports leagues.

While Microsoft will offer MSN Video to its MSN.com and MSN Premium subscribers, it's not the first time content partner NBC is offering streaming video. MSNBC.com currently offers free high-bandwidth video streams on its Web site.

Microsoft's Gurry said MSN Video will be fully supported by 15-second advertisements embedded in the streams. However, she declined to say what sort of financial incentives Microsoft plans to offer content providers. She did note that current standalone video-streaming services have not performed up to expectation.

"The current opportunities for content providers are not great," Gurry said. But MSN Video is a "great opportunity for content partners to share content with broadband customers."