Microsoft Buyout to Finally Marry MSNBC.com With Its Cable News Namesake

10:18 AM PST 07/16/2012 by Marisa Guthrie
Virginia Sherwood/NBC

"We think this is going to clear up the brand confusion that does exist to some extent," said NBC News president Steve Capus.

The long-expected buyout of Microsoft from MSNBC, which was launched 16 years ago as a joint venture between NBC News and the Redmond, Wash.-based tech company, was not undertaken to distance MSNBC from its straight news broadcast property, says NBC News president Steve Capus.

Rather, said Capus Monday during a conference call with reporters, the move is to achieve brand alignment and a better digital representation of MSNBC’s programming  and personalities -- including primetime hosts Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz and Lawrence O’Donnell. The new MSNBC.com is set to launch early next year.

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“While we have built something very successful online with the name MSNBC.com, we think we can have a greater representation of our television properties with a new structure,” said Capus, adding that MSNBC is only "adequately represented on the current site. I think we can do better.”

The MSNBC.com site already has been redesigned and relaunched as NBCNews.com, and users typing in MSNBC.com are automatically redirected. NBCUniversal parent Comcast led the negotiation, paying a reported $300 million to buy out Microsoft, which has not had a stake in the cable network since 2005.

Vivian Schiller, NBC News senior vp and chief digital officer, said she does not expect disruption in MSNBC.com’s considerable traffic. The site attracted nearly 40 million unique users last month with a mix of news and lifestyle stories.

The deal makes NBC News the full owner and operator of the complete MSNBC Digital Network, which includes MSNBC.com, Today.com, NightlyNews.com, BreakingNews.com, Newsvine.com and EveryBlock.com. All of NBC News’ digital businesses -- including theGrio.com, NBCLatino.com, NBCPolitics.com, EducationNation.com and various social media and digital initiatives -- will combine to form a new division called NBC News Digital.

“There’s a tremendous amount of value wrapped up in this venture,” said Capus. “That is what we acquired when the deal closed [Friday]. We think this is going to clear up the brand confusion that does exist to some extent.

“People understand the difference between the NBC News broadcast property and MSNBC cable,” he continued. “And they understand that what they’re going to get in cable news is going to be different.”

With the relaunched MSNBC site, the network will be free to add more enhanced TV-related content, including social, for programs including The Rachel Maddow Show.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to grow the MSNBC brand,” said MSNBC president Phil Griffin, adding that the new site will have more columns, blogs and content that reflects each show’s sensibilities and reporting.

“We’re going to reflect everything we do in TV,” added Griffin. “There are a lot of successful point-of-view websites out there. But virtually none of them has an alignment digitally. Fox News comes the closest, but that’s about it.”

Email: Marisa.Guthrie@thr.com

Twitter: @MarisaGuthrie

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