Samsung’s new Milk Video app is all about taking on YouTube

Samsung took the next step in its quest to revamp its media services Wednesday with the launch of Milk Video11, a mobile video aggregation app that puts the focus squarely on short-form content. Milk Video aggregates videos from a variety of sources, including YouTube, Vevo, Vice, CollegeHumor, BuzzFeed and AwesomenessTV, and presents them to users in an endless stream that is a bit reminiscent of Instagram or Vine.

Of course, video aggregation apps have been around for a long time, but few if any have managed to attract huge audiences. Samsung wants to differentiate itself from the pack by striking exclusive deals with some of its content partners. Samsung VP of Content and Services Kevin Swint told me Tuesday that Vice will produce an exclusive weekly news show for Milk Video, and that Funny Or Die will produce original short-form content for the service as well.

The app: slick, but still a little limited on the content side

I had a chance to play with Milk Video a little bit Tuesday, and have to say that the app is pretty slick. The main view of the app is a stream of content from sources that a user is following, which can include other Milk Video users as well as channels from a select list of content partners.

A hambuger icon on the upper left corner reveals a menu of channels to subscribe to, and a rainbow-colored navigation bar on the right allows users to scroll through categories of content, including Comedy, Gaming, Sports and Tech. This navigation bar offers some haptic feedback, something that Milk Video has borrowed from Samsung’s Milk Music service. Videos can be swiped away to remove them from the stream, or shared / reposted on Milk or via Facebook or Twitter.

My favorite feature however is the video player, which lets you watch clips in portrait mode while you can continue to browse through the stream. The player also pauses and resumes a video as soon as you tap anywhere on the video, instead of forcing you bring up and then aim for a play / pause button. It’s a small thing that basically just eliminates one tap, but it shows how the folks at Samsung have thought about the design of this app, and optimized it for situation where you may only have two or three minutes. Like when you are standing in line, waiting for your coffee.

I can see Milk Music work great for these kinds of situations. However, the content catalog does still seem a little slim. For example, in the news section, most clips were at least a day old, and almost all of them came from Reuters, which may not exactly meet the tone of Milk Video’s target audience.

The big elephant in the room: YouTube

Which brings up the question: Who did Samsung make this app for? A simple answer is that Milk Video is for Samsung device owners. The app is being distributed via Google Play, but it’s only compatible with Samsung smart phones ranging from the Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S3 all the way to the Note 4 and the Galaxy S5. “Our focus right now is to add value to the experience of owning a Samsung device,” Swint said.

That’s the same strategy that led Samsung to launch Milk Music, a Pandora-like music streaming app that’s also exclusive to Samsung devices, earlier this year — and it’s a departure from how Samsung used to approach media services. The company used to run its own music, video and ebook stores, with the goal of competing with established retailers like iTunes and Amazon to further monetize its devices. Samsung closed down its media hubs earlier this year, and struck partnerships with Amazon and M-Go to take over some of its less-lucrative transactional businesses.

But the big elephant in the room for Milk Video is YouTube. The Google-owned video service has become the default destination for all things short-form, but creators have long looked to diversify and possibly get better deals elsewhere. Efforts to take some of the service’s more popular content elsewhere have thus far failed, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying.

Now, you can add Samsung to the list of companies trying to serve up more professional YouTube-like content through its own service. Samsung may sway some of YouTube’s talent because it has both money and an audience, but in the end, it may also need to prove a working business model for publishers to give up on anyone who doesn’t have a Samsung phone.

Check out a few screenshots of Milk Video below:

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