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.
Terms of the deal weren’t revealed. The New York Times cited unnamed people knowledgeable about the deal who said Microsoft will receive about $300 million for in exchange for its 50 percent stake in the joint venture.
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.
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 Microsoft’s MSN portal and a board member of the former MSNBC joint venture.
Now that it has shed those shackles, Microsoft is preparing to launch its own news service this fall. Although he declined to provide many details about the operation, Visse said the news staff will be about the same size as the roughly 100 people who created original content for the former MSNBC.com.
By hiring its own news staff to feed material to its websites, Microsoft is embracing the same strategy as the owners of two other major Internet companies, Yahoo Inc. and AOL Inc.
Microsoft has leaned on its lucrative franchise selling personal computer software to finance massive Internet investments that have rarely paid off, much to the frustration of its shareholders. The software maker initially invested $220 million in the MSNBC joint venture. It’s unclear if Microsoft ended up making any money on the alliance. As a whole, the company’s online operations, which include the Bing search engine and MSN portal, have lost more than $10 billion in the past seven years.