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Microsoft's MSN in talks with MySpace about music tie-up

MSN is considering using MySpace's music service to help power its own music offerings, according to sources.

Microsoft's MSN is in preliminary talks with MySpace about using the social-networking site's music service, MySpace Music, to help power music offerings on the giant portal.

While sources at both companies cautioned that the talks are still early, Microsoft, which has its own music site that it programs with original and partnered content, execs are interested in goosing it.

That's because MSN Music consistently ranks substantially lower than other big online music properties in terms of traffic, while MySpace Music is always near the top.

Sources said Microsoft execs don't think they can do as good a job as MySpace is doing and don't see the point in striking needed but complex deals with music labels, which the News Corp. property already has.

In an April report by comScore, for example, MySpace Music was No. 2, just behind AOL Music, with 27.4 million unique monthly visitors. MSN Music was No. 6 with just 7.4 million.

Nonetheless, music is an area MSN cannot lag so badly in, given that entertainment is one of the key categories it is focusing on as it preps for a major renovation of the portal.

As BoomTown wrote in mid-July about a wide variety of changes coming to MSN:

MSN, Microsoft's online portal, is also preparing a major redo of what U.S. and, possibly, international consumers will see, as it doubles down on five key content verticals, while cutting back on others.

In a new focus that will start to be apparent in the next month, MSN will heavily add to its News, Sports, Finance, Lifestyle and Entertainment offerings, weaving more data from [its search service] Bing into the mix.

"It's a decision to make it so MSN does less better," said one source close to the situation. "So there will be a focus of attention on a smaller number of categories in which we can be either #1 or #2 in, rather than #4 or #5."

It is not clear exactly what the financial terms would be in any tie-up between MSN and MySpace, which could include licensing of content and other services related to music.

But such a deal is not unusual--MSN's sports site is powered by Fox Sports, which is another News Corp. property.

And such a partnership would also key into concepts that MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta outlined in a recent interview onstage at the Web 2.0 conference.

Key among them was boosting music and entertainment overall and making them the prime focus in the site's efforts at reinvigorating itself, as well as expanding distribution of MySpace.

In fact, MySpace recently bought social music service iLike to expand its distribution all over the Web, for example--including on Facebook, the longtime social-networking rival from which MySpace is now trying mightily to differentiate itself.

In his appearance, Van Natta also unveiled a music video hub, the ability by users to buy music using Apple iTunes, and a set of better analytical tools--called MySpace Music Artist Dashboard--to help artists figure out how to best work with fans.

But MySpace needs more than these, and a link with Microsoft would provide it with a traffic gusher, since MSN's main page remains one of the most trafficked sites on the Web.

If such a distribution partnership were struck, it would also raise the question of what will happen regarding MySpace's negotiations with Google over renewal of their search deal, which expires next summer.

Dissatisfaction over the pricey three-year deal has been expressed by both sides; their mutual grumbling is one of the biggest open secrets in Silicon Valley.

Doing a search deal with Bing is the obvious and only alternative, although few expect any agreement to be as rich as the one MySpace did with Google in 2006 for $900 million.

Interestingly, it was recently reported that both Google and Facebook were bolstering music search and sales offerings, and Google's apparently includes the use of the iLike player.

In other words: this could get really complicated.

Execs at both MySpace and Microsoft I reached out to declined to comment.

(Full disclosure: News Corp. owns Dow Jones, which owns AllThingsD, the site where this article originally appeared.)