Microsoft Soapbox, a Would-Be YouTube Competitor, Could Be Cut

Microsoft is evaluating where Soapbox, its online video answer to YouTube, currently stands with regard to its MSN brand. Reports suggest that Soapbox could be cut back, making it the latest Microsoft application, after Money and Encarta, to be reduced or axed entirely.

Microsoft is mulling the fate of Soapbox, the user-generated video Website it launched via its MSN portal in December 2006 to compete with YouTube and similar online offerings.

Microsoft issued a statement to eWEEK through a spokesperson on June 17 stating that Microsoft was "currently evaluating what the Soapbox brand means to MSN and how it relates to our content strategy."

The statement added, "Online video is a key part of the MSN experience. ... We remain committed to delivering amazing experiences for consumers while at the same time keeping a keen eye on our business objectives during this tough economic climate."

A June 16 story on Cnet, however, made it seem more of a foregone conclusion that Soapbox's role in Microsoft's online strategy would be severely reduced. In an interview with the site, Microsoft Vice President Erik Jorgensen repeatedly said the company planned to scale back the offering in the face of severe economic headwinds.

Spokespeople for Microsoft could not confirm those comments.

In a report by the research company ComScore, Microsoft had 2 percent of the online video market in March, putting it in fifth place behind Yahoo, Hulu, Fox Interactive Media and Google, which had a 40.9 percent market share thanks primarily to YouTube. Overall, Americans watched 14.5 billion online videos in March, an increase of 11 percent over February, with an average total viewing time of 5.5 hours and 97 videos.

Given the recession and the ever-changing nature of IT, Microsoft has been slicing a handful of other applications from its lineup in recent months. On June 11, the company announced that it would stop offering Microsoft Money Plus, the personal finance software it first rolled out 17 years ago.

"With banks, brokerage firms and Websites now providing a range of options for managing personal finances, the consumer need for Microsoft Money Plus has changed," the company said in a statement at the time, adding elsewhere on its Money Plus site: "Demand for a comprehensive personal finance tool set has declined."

However, Microsoft plans to continue to support online services for active Money customers through "at least" January 2011.

In March, Microsoft also shut down Encarta, its encyclopedia software first started 16 years ago, in light of competition from free and constantly updated sites such as Wikipedia. Encarta Premium 2009, the application's swan song, contained over 62,000 detailed articles and retailed for $29.95.