It’s only three months since Microsoft sold its stake in MSNBC.com, the news site it produced for 16 years in partnership with NBC, but the computing giant has already announced that it will launch a news service called MSN News with the release of Windows 8 on October 26. After that date, visitors to MSN.com will see a blend of aggregated and original content produced by a large newsroom in Bellevue, WA, and another smaller team New York City, all tailored to the digital opportunities presented by Windows 8.
“Now that we’re holding our own, we feel it’s an opportunity for us to really bring all of the capabilities we have with technology, design, and content into a slightly different approach that’s built for the Web, rather than built for network news,” said Steve Cvengros, an executive producer. “I don’t think you can say that you’re a content creator without doing news. This will be the cornerstone in how we look at content-creation through all of MSN.”
The Web focus means the site will emphasize social and search integration, user involvement, and aggregated content from newswires like AP and Reuters, Cvengros said. At first, 75 percent of content will be aggregated, with a drop to around 50-50 sometime in the new year, he said. A team of journalists from publications including The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post and The Houston Chronicle has been assembled to help MSN build, in Cvengros’s words, “news that’s easy to use.” Trending technology called Demand Dashboard built in-house at Microsoft and launched earlier this year will allow them to measure coverage against social media trends and Bing search items.
“We are going to use trending, but we are going to set up guardrails that assure that our users can feel confident that we are going to cover the news stories of the day as well as some pop culture,” Cvengros said.
Microsoft and NBC joined forces in 1996 to run MSNBC.com as a news website, with Microsoft’s technological operations working out of Washington State, and NBC’s news operations in New York. They successfully grew its audience to 50 million by the time of the split. But according to a New York Times article in July, the relationship between the two companies became increasingly strained when NBC wanted to make cross-media advertising deals for both TV and online, because Microsoft handled their online sales.
When it launches, the revamped MSN.com will have better visual elements to capitalize on the Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 upgrade. According to a post on the MSN blog, the redesign includes headline size that corresponds to the importance of the story, smoother and faster loading, and a more “app-like” experience.
As the automatic Internet Explorer homepage, MSN is one of the most-visited sites in the world. Company statistics put the number of visitors per month at 480 million.
Currently, two other MSN sites have their own news teams, Money and Entertainment, but there are plans to absorb them into the new MSN.com newsroom over time. “One aspect for us when we say we’re building a newsroom from scratch, is looking at how we will build a 24-7, follow-the-sun global news service,” Cvengros said.