Columnist in biz with MSNBC.com

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New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman is expanding his "World" with MSNBC.com.

His best-selling book "The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century" will provide the theme for a new online environment hosted by the news Web site and integrated with sister portal MSN. It will feature video interviews with newsmakers conducted by the author. Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates is set to be the first guest when the site launches in September.

The first question in each interview will be, "When did you realize the world was flat?" a reference to the globalization trends Friedman examines in his book. Video will be supplemented with relevant articles on related themes from MSNBC as well as social networking features allowing readers to submit their own "world is flat" moments. Friedman will not write for the site but will respond to some of the user-generated material.

"This will allow him to have a dialogue with his fans," said Jeff Bernstein, co-founder and chief marketing officer of production company PBJS, which is producing the site. "A franchise this dynamic is a natural to make the leap from print to the Internet."

Each interview will be broken down into multiminute videos that will be replenished each week for a four- to six-week period, after which the next guest will be introduced.

Advertising space on the site will be restricted to a few marquee advertisers that will be integrated into the site on several fronts. Editorial content will be firmly separated from marketing messages, Bernstein said.

MSNBC.com vp advertising sales Kyoo Kim has high hopes for Friedman's collaboration with the news site, noting that he should be a compelling attraction during the working hours when traffic for MSNBC.com is at its highest.

"We felt we needed a strong branded content experience targeted at a sophisticated, business-minded audience," he said.

There will be some cross promotion of the "World" site with Friedman's Web page behind the subscription wall at nytimes.com, but that is the extent of the newspaper's involvement.

The deal was brokered by Michael Kernan, Lori Sale and Esther Newberg at ICM.
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