Microsoft is to launch a free full length video service in the UK to compete alongside the likes of the BBC iPlayer and Hulu – with MSN Video Player offering full series of the likes of The Young Ones and Peep Show.

The company is keen to point out that this is a 'pilot' scheme which will be used to gauge the popularity of the service, but may look to extend the service onto other platforms – like the Xbox - if it proves a success, as well as into other countries.

"We will be offering a full length video product over the next week and we're calling it MSN video player," explained Microsoft's Rob Crossen.

"We'll be offering about 350 hours of television from BBC Worldwide and All Three Media and we'll be offering that in standalone page within the MSN Service.

Pilot site

"It is a pilot – that's important to emphasise – it's a toe in the water if you like in terms of the world of full length online video.

"The reason that we are doing it is that we know that audience is now consuming its media in different ways and expect to get it everywhere they go including MSN

"Plus we know we have a strong existing audience in video with around 3 million unique users on MSN's Video site already."

The service – which curiously has not been given a firm launch date and time but will arrive sometime this week – is already in-demand from companies wishing to advertise on the videos, funding the project and keeping the service free.

"We know that there is advertising demand there because we have pre-sold 100 per cent of the inventory," added Crossen.

"Advertisers were expecting us to offer a product like this because the migration of viewers away from traditional media."

Huge potential audience

Crossen believes that MSN's already huge audience is a key factor in launching the product, which will be inevitably compared to YouTube's full length videos and those of US giant Hulu – which is launching in the UK soon.

"We have a reach of just under 50 per cent in the UK for MSN," said Crossen. "That's second only to the BBC; we've got the number one digital ads sales team in the UK.

"From a technology perspective, which Microsoft lives and breathes, we've been able to set this player up.

"We also have strong content partnership and we are about the best of the web not all of the web – we don't profess to have an exhaustive library – but it's quality and not quantity."

Available in a flash

The service, which, perhaps surprisingly, uses Flash and Windows Media rather than the company's Silverlight application, will stream on relatively small bandwidth connections up to a maximum of 650 kbps.

Microsoft is aware that the popularity of streaming media has led to disgruntled ISPs, but told TechRadar: "We considered different strategies and on balance we believe that streaming is less burdensome on ISPs than other methods of delivery.

"In addition, ISPs should see quality video services like ours as up-sell for their higher speed offerings."