"NBC and Microsoft plan to announce a deal to finally part company," says Howard Kurtz at The Daily Beast, "with the network buying back the remainder of their hugely popular MSNBC website from the software giant." The reported deal (which NBC did not confirm, while saying such "conversations" are ongoing) would end a marriage that began in 1995, when the two companies came together to launch the cable channel MSNBC and its accompanying website. Microsoft pulled out of the cable channel in 2005, but continues to own a 50 percent stake in the site, which "ranks among the top three in online news sites," says Andrew Kirell at Mediaite. Under NBC's control, the site will reportedly be rebranded as NBCNews.com, a big change for a recognizable web destination. Here, three possible consequences if the deal goes through:
1. It would clear up some brand confusion
The Microsoft-NBC deal has always been a "confusing partnership," says Adam Martin at The Atlantic. There's the cable channel, which features Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and other liberal anchors. There's the website, which is more of a general news outlet that does its own reporting while aggregating content from other sources. And then there's the NBC network, whose news "executives have grown frustrated at not having sole control of the the MSNBC website," says Kurtz. Bringing that all under the NBC umbrella could streamline the brand.
2. But it could also taint NBC's image
One potential problem is identifying NBC, a nonpartisan outlet, too closely with the MSNBC cable channel, which has risen in popularity by branding itself as a left-wing counterweight to Fox News. To build a wall between the two, NBC could end up rebranding the current MSNBC.com news portal as NBCNews.com, while also creating "a second site with the MSNBC name simply to promote the cable channel's offerings," says Kurtz. A separate site could potentially help the cable channel, which has lacked an outlet "solely devoted to pushing its personalities."
3. The new NBC site might not be as popular
MSNBC.com attracted nearly 56 million unique visitors in April, largely because it "benefits heavily from its prominent placement" on Microsoft's popular MSN landing page, says Mike Shields at AdWeek. It remains to be seen what role MSN will play in a final deal, though Microsoft is expected "to continue to steer some traffic toward" the new NBC site, says Kurtz. But if it doesn't, traffic could plummet.