Microsoft is to launch an online TV player in the UK next week, initially featuring 350 hours of BBC and ITV television programmes.
The ad-supported service, called MSN Video Player, is designed to complement TV channels' existing online video services by offering older programmes no longer available on the BBC's iPlayer or Channel 4's 4oD, Microsoft said on Thursday.
Content will include BBC programmes including Hustle, The League of Gentlemen, Mock the Week, Hotel Babylon, Dead Ringers, That Mitchell and Webb Look and Jack Dee Live at the Apollo, as well as content from All3Media, the producer of How to Look Good Naked, 10 Years Younger, Peep Show and Midsomer Murders, Microsoft said.
"We want to be one of the UK's top free premium video on-demand destinations," Ashley Highfield, managing director consumer and online at Microsoft UK said in a statement. The company believes the wide reach of its MSN portal, which it says attracts 16 million people every month, will help the MSN Video Player service take off, Highfield added.
Programmes will be offered in either Windows Media Video or Flash formats and are designed for 512Kbps broadband, according to the company. They will not be available to IP addresses outside the UK.
Microsoft said it is initially planning a six-month trial period for MSN Video Player, and could expand it to work with the Xbox and mobile devices.
The move follows the cancellation of Kangaroo, a joint BBC, ITV and Channel 4 TV-viewing service that was blocked by regulators in February.
Arqiva purchased the Kangaroo technology last week, and said it is planning to use the technology as the basis for an online TV offering "in the coming months".
The cancellation of Project Kangaroo provided the impetus for the development of the MSN Video Player, Microsoft said. Highfield, who is working on the MSN Video Player project, joined Microsoft last year after heading development of the BBC's iPlayer and acting as chief executive for Project Kangaroo.
MSN Video Player will face competition from Hulu, a successful US online TV service that is planning a UK launch in September.