NBC News and Comcast Corp. moved on Monday to fix brand confusion between the MSNBC 24-hour cable news show, whose ratings have surged with liberal commentators Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz, and the straight-news MSNBC.com news website.
Comcast and NBC bought out Microsoft’s 50 percent stake in MSNBC.com for a reported $300 million. Readers logging onto MSNBC.com on Monday were redirected to NBCNews.com. NBC officials would not comment on the financial terms of buying out their 16-year partner in the venture.
MSNBC will remain the name of the cable channel, and MSNBC.com will become the cable channel’s exclusive website in 2013, which will insulate the objective news product from the more partisan content on the cable channel.
Microsoft is expected to launch its own news service independent of NBC in the fall.
Both NBC and Microsoft praised the partnership but indicated it was time for both companies to control their digital destinies.
Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said in a morning conference call, “This is an exciting day for NBC News. … We want to make sure we have direct control of our digital future. … We are not doing this as a way to cut costs.” He said other companies were cutting journalism jobs, while this deal showed a commitment to news.
Vivian Schiller, the former chief executive officer of National Public Radio, will head NBC News Digital, whose websites, in addition to NBCNews.com, will include NightlyNews.com, BreakingNews.com, Newsvine.com, EveryBlock.com, TheGrio.com, NBCPolitics.com and EducationNation.com.
This is the second recent deal for Comcast involving NBCUniversal, which it acquired in early 2011. The cable giant disclosed in a federal regulatory filing on July 10 that it sold its 15.8 percent stake in A&E Television Networks LLC for $3 billion in cash — some which can be used to purchase the 50 percent in MSNBC.com.
NBC officials said on Monday that Comcast negotiated the deal with Microsoft, though Comcast officials did not participate in an hour-long press call announcing it Monday morning. Comcast and Microsoft have had close relations for years. Brian Roberts, the chief executive and chairman of the Philadelphia cable company, is a personal friend of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. In financial terms, this was a minor transaction for Comcast, which has a stock market capitalization of about $85 billion.
There are about 300 employees in MSNBC.com, many of them in Seattle.
NBC executives said they’ll keep the MSNBC name because of its brand recognition with viewers and because they obtained ownership of the name as part of the deal.
Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said that the cable channel has “found its voice” and that “the performance of the cable channel cannot be questioned.” MSNBC ranks consistently No. 2 in the news channel category, behind Fox. Its ratings can be beaten by CNN for big breaking news stories.
Griffin described MSNBC as progressive and said executives believe a related “point-of-view” website will be a success. “Our space is wide open,” he said. “That’s our intention, to own that space.”