MSNBC primed for July 15 launch

News junkies will get their first look July 15 at a cable/Web combo built of Microsoft's hi-tech and NBC news expertise.

CNET News staff
3 min read
REDMOND, Washington--Microsoft and NBC-TV have outlined plans for coordinating news coverage on cable television and the Internet, but their joint venture, called MSNBC, is still a work in progress. Until next month.

The news operation is aiming for a July 15 launch.

MSNBC will have 400 of its own dedicated employees, plus the resources of NBC-TV's network news and cable news operations, which will contribute to both the Web and TV coverage.

"We are conceptualizing news that will work in both media, trying to create something genuinely new, truly different and original," Andy Lack, president of NBC News, told journalists at a briefing Tuesday here.

Television and Internet editors will work closely together and NBC news correspondents, particularly those overseas whose work rarely makes the evening news, will file directly to the Web site. "We have an opportunity to create a voice designed for this media, getting news via computers," said Merrill Brown, who joined six weeks ago as managing editor of MSNBC on the Internet.

"It will work because we did not create a separate reporting team," said Mark Harrington, vice president and general manager of MSNBC. "All NBC employees are now working for MSNBC."

On the cable side--NBC is converting its "America's Talking" channel into a 24-hour news channel--MSNBC will offer 14 hours of original content daily, including 10 hours of news coverage. To date, MSNBC has signed cable systems that pass 22 million U.S. homes.

On the Net, MSNBC will post daily news stories, including breaking news, with an emphasis on coverage of the Internet and business. For example, the operation has hired a reporter whose beat will be to see how the Net is reacting to major news stories such as the Unabomber.

NBC reporters, including overseas correspondents, will also be filing stories for the MSNBC site, including analysis, background pieces and "reporters' notebooks" material. "They will be filing new, exclusive original content for the Web site, but not breaking news," said Harrington.

MSNBC will also offer a customized news page that tailors information for an individual?s specific interests. Building "community" through MSNBC, using bulletin boards, chat software, and email, will be a key goal, Brown said.

"I like it," said Jerry Michalski, editor of the Release 1.0 industry newsletter. He pointed to the "good chemistry" between the Microsoft and NBC executives at the presentation.

Managing Editor Brown insisted that Microsoft would not influence MSNBC's coverage. "The kind of people I have hired won't kowtow to that kind of stuff," he said in response to questions about Microsoft's influence on what stories are assigned and how they are written.

Five or six advertisers have been signed up for the Web site but the company has declined to name names.

The venture will have to find more if it is to recoup Microsoft's and NBC's investment. In the original deal, announced last December, Microsoft agreed to pay $220 million over five years for a 50 percent stake in MSNBC Cable. The entire project will cost Microsoft and NBC about $200 million over five years. Microsoft's total investment so far is "far less than $50 million," according to Peter Neupert, vice president of strategic partnerships for Microsoft's interactive media division.