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MSN tweaks online lineup

Emulating television, MSN drops 12 online shows and add 14 new ones. Spin-offs and layoffs are also featured.

Just as TV networks pare prime-time losers from fall lineups, Microsoft Network today will deep-six 12 of its online programs, while adding more to its total show roster.

Even when the MSN's programming ax fell, it also added 14 new shows to the 13-week season's lineup. Along with the 14 returning programs, the newcomers will last only if they attract new "viewers" to MSN's audience or garner critical acclaim.

"We know that the majority of people are using MSN at home during the evening. The peak prime time for us is 'prime time,'" MSN general manager Jeff Sanderson said today. "In the grand tradition of All in the Family, we're also spinning off shows."

One spin-off is Personal Trainer, a former feature on the women's site, Underwire. Other new titles include @Watercooler, about workplace issues and networking. MSN also has three new music features including Hard Rock Live, a music channel featuring online chats; On Air, an alternative music show with concert broadcasts from more than 300 college radio stations; and E-String, where members can get help in learning how to play an instrument.

Following the networks' lead, MSN will also air shows about the outer limits. Project: Watchfire, explores UFOs through reports and interviews with researchers, and Mama Planet is about environmental activism. Disney's Daily Blast kid's site is also in the lineup, as previously announced.

On the cutting room floor will be Web-episodics 475 Madison Avenue and (914). Spared in syndication was Restrospect 360, rumored in February to be on its way out. Also returning is Second City Naked News and Headlines, with a new look and audio clips.

"We use fixed criteria to help us decide which shows will continue running on MSN," Jessica Ostrow, product manager for MSN said today. "The show needs to attract new members, be technologically innovative, popular by word of mouth, or something that we?ve never seen before."

Like TV networks, MSN uses outside talent to get fresh ideas. Back in February, the service let go more than 80 contract workers. They produced the shows getting cut tomorrow, a Microsoft spokesman said.

"Contract workers are always being added and dropped; that's the nature of it. No permanent employees are being let go," the spokesman added. He said that MSN now contracts about 50 percent of its shows from the outside and will develop a larger percentage of programs externally in the future.

Unlike TV, MSN can react to users' tastes rapidly. The new launch includes changes in its look that were popular in user testing, the spokesman said. For example, MSN should download faster and include a "members' bulletin" to alert users to new features and software updates.

Separately, MSN now has more than 2.2 million subscribers worldwide, up from 1.6 million in October, a company executive told Reuters.