After more than 16 years, MSNBC.com is no more. Comcast (which controls NBCUniversal) has acquired Microsoft’s 50 percent stake in the online news site, and its URL now redirects to NBCNews.com. The New York Times reports that Comcast is giving Microsoft roughly $300 million in the deal, citing "people with knowledge of the transaction." MSNBC.com will reportedly return in 2013, but only as the online presence for the MSNBC cable channel.
Microsoft is getting into online news reporting
Sunday's announcement confirms rumors swirling since May, when Adweek first broke the story of a potential buyback. It also simplifies the complex relationship between MSNBC the cable news channel and MSNBC.com the website, and signals Microsoft's first direct entry into online news reporting.
Microsoft sold its interest in the MSNBC cable channel back in 2005, but had retained its share in MSNBC.com. The arrangement left ad sales for the site under Microsoft's control, reportedly hamstringing MSNBC’s efforts to sell advertising across its TV and web properties. The joint venture also limited Microsoft's MSN web portal to news from MSNBC.com. Now, MSN users will have a greater range of news producers to choose from, although Microsoft has agreed to continue highlighting top stories from NBCNews.com for the next two years.
Non-exclusivity means more news variety for MSN
Bob Visse, general manager for MSN at Microsoft, told The Associated Press, "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." Meanwhile, NBC News president Steve Capus told The New York Times, "we think we have a much better opportunity to shape [our digital properties], and frankly grow the news division over all, if we have direct control over all of it." Former NPR CEO and recent NBC hire Vivian Schiller will lead NBCNews.com as part of her role as NBC News' chief digital officer.
Most interestingly, though, Microsoft plans to strike out on its own this fall with original online reporting. Visse told the AP that MSN will be building a brand-new news team of approximately 100 journalists, or roughly the same size as the original group of reporters behind MSNBC.com at its launch in 1996.
MSN's pairing of an online portal with original news puts them in competition with similar sites like AOL and Yahoo. But for stories and placement on MSN's home page, the new news outfit will now also be competing with its old partner NBCNews.com.
Still, "this is really an amicable breakup," said Schiller. "We think competition will make us better."
Tim Carmody contributed to this report