Microsoft Divorces MSNBC
Microsoft sold its cable stake in MSNBC years ago; now, it's ending ties with the MSNBC.com website, too.
Microsoft sold its cable stake in MSNBC years ago; now, it’s ending ties with the MSNBC.com website, too.
AP (“Microsoft, NBC dissolve MSNBC.com joint venture“):
Microsoft is pulling out of the joint venture that owned MSNBC.com, freeing the world’s largest software maker to build its own online news service.
The breakup announced late Sunday dissolves the final shreds of a 16-year marriage between Microsoft Corp. and NBC News, which is now owned by Comcast Corp. The relationship began to unwind in 2005 when Microsoft sold its stake in MSNBC’s cable TV channel to NBC.
NBC is buying Microsoft’s 50 percent interest in the MSNBC website for an undisclosed amount. MSNBC.com will be rebranded as NBCNews.com, and readers who logged into MSNBC.com late Sunday were automatically redirected to NBCNews.com.
The online divorce stemmed from the two partners’ desire to gain greater control over their digital destinies as the Internet becomes an increasingly important part of their businesses.
The inherent constraints of being locked into a joint venture sometimes handcuffed Microsoft and NBC.
Microsoft, in particular, had grown frustrated by contract terms requiring it to exclusively feature MSNBC.com content on its own websites. That exasperation was exacerbated by the MSNBC cable channel’s strategy to counter Fox News Channel’s appeal to conservative viewers by tailoring its programming for an audience with a liberal viewpoint. The strategy fed a perception that material from MSNBC’s website was politically slanted, too. ”Being limited to MSNBC.com content was problematic to us because we couldn’t have the multiple news sources and the multiple perspectives that our users were telling us that they wanted,” said Bob Visse, general manager of MSN.com.
NBC News, in turn, believes it will be able to attract more traffic to its stable of websites by forging other partnerships that were off limits when it was tied to Microsoft. “There is no question that we are going to have more flexibility to make our own decisions,” said Vivian Schiller, NBC News’ chief digital officer. “This is really an amicable breakup. We think competition will make us better.”
There has been talk of this rebrand for years. But it really makes sense, particularly for Microsoft. To the extent that people still associate MSNBC with the software giant–my guess is that most, like me, just think of “MSNBC” as an independent brand at this point–being thought of as backing a partisan site is bad business. For that matter, it has always struck me as odd for NBC News to waste what was once a gigantic brand by not using that label for its cable and online content.
Of course, all of the above applies at least as much to the cable outlet as to the website. If Microsoft is worried about being branded politically by “MSNBC,” rebranding the website really doesn’t help much. When I think “MSNBC,” the liberal talk show hosts are the first thing to come to mind. As with most enterprises, I consider the website simply an extension of the main brand. Yet none of the stories make mention of any change in the branding of the cable outlet, so one presumes it will remain “MSNBC.”