MSN's Withdrawal From 'Original Content' Could Be Bing's (Marginal) Gain

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Qi Lu, MicrosoftThe major reorg that retiring Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer engineered two months ago  is resulting in the end of its portal MSN producing original content. As detailed by Romenesko, MSN freelancers were told in a mass email that their services would no longer be needed and that the budget for original content was "zero" for the rest of the year.

It's been three years since Microsoft gave up on promoting is portal as a big content play around celebrities and finance. And despite that – perhaps many users of Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser keep MSN as the default homepage? – the portal consistently ranks highly on comScore's Media Metrix. In comScore's July 2013 Ad Focus Rankings, MSN was in eighth place behind AOL with 116 million unique visitors.

But as the Microsoft executive shuffle this summer put more emphasis on products like its Bing search engine and its Xbox gaming and entertainment console, Microsoft felt that the money it was spending on freelancers could be better spent on aggregating content from other places, and shifting resources – including advertising, perhaps? – to those other areas would be more beneficial. Microsoft representatives did not respond to questions about its advertising plans in the wake of the MSN content change.

The email sent to freelancers, attributed to Kent Laird, lead editor at MSN Entertainment, alluded to "a new VP overseeing all online services, including MSN, who has a vastly different vision for our Web site than anything in the past 15 years."

In July, Microsoft said that Qi Lu, who had been in charge of online services for four years, would take the lead on app and technologies related to productivity, communication and search. Unlike its portal rivals, MSN did not bother any major content announcements during the spring NewFront presentations, suggesting that the company was less and less concerned with that part of the business.

In keeping with Lu's change in focus, it's likely that Microsoft's advertising business will change as well. Still, it will probably entail some tweaks, as the ad business never factored into Microsoft's bottom line all that much, especially after it decided to sell off Razorfish to Publicis in 2009.

To be sure, MSN was always behind AOL and Yahoo, even in the days when it did stage large scale content plays like Wonderwall with the likes of Hollywood vets like Berman-Braun. But the efforts never got much traction. That's not to say that AOL and Yahoo set the world ablaze with their original content, but it has been a more significant part of their respective ad businesses.

"That partnership was put together to give media buyers ease-of-use at scale for tier-two, tier-three type inventory," AOL CEO Tim Armstrong said. "That's what that deal is continuing to do. I could be wrong, but I don't think anyone thought this was going to be any kind of game-changer."

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