After 16 years as a media world odd couple, Microsoft and NBC officially parted ways last July. The split led to NBC-parent Comcast acquiring full control of MSNBC Digital Network and the launch of a spate of new properties under the rubric of NBC News Digital.
On its first anniversary, the operation is still a work in progress as the now-independent operation works to dispel lingering Microsoft ties and to deploy a reconstructed ad sales force.
The process is in the “5th inning,” according to Vivian Schiller, who is the Chief Digital Officer of NBC News. Schiller is charged with overseeing the rechristened NBCNews.com (formerly MSNBC.com) and a growing stable of other websites, including iVillage (aimed at women), TODAY.com, and the African-American news site, The Grio.
The move has also largely resolved the brand confusion that once existed between the website and NBC’s left-leaning MSNBC cable network. And, in another move, NBC News Digital has also integrated the popular Twitter-based Breaking News site as a start-up within the company. But at the same time, the company is still sweeping away cobwebs from its former partner.
“The joint venture with Microsoft lasted for 16 years — the property and people were all on their campus in Washington. We didn’t anticipate that — it was more like a full-fledged acquisition than taking control of a property we already owned,” said Schiller by phone.
Schiller added that the backend work of the acquisition is now complete and that the company is getting ready to unveil redesigns of NBCNews.com as well as a new version of MSNBC.com. She did not disclose revenue figures for the properties; the old MSNBC.com was reported to be the most profitable news site in the country.
Going forward, the company faces the challenge of a choppy advertising market.
“Display advertising is under pressure, particularly with programmatic buying — it’s not going away soon and is a significant part of our revenue,” said Schiller. But she added that online video ad sales were “extremely strong” and that the company’s advantage is its ability to sell ads across platforms, including TV.
The bottom line is that it’s still too early to tell if the digital unit of NBC News can be a profit center, or it will instead join numerous other online news outlets that struggle to make money.