Chris Stephenson, general manager of marketing for Microsoft's Zune music player, is leaving to join Universal Music Group.
Stephenson was one of the people Microsoft tasked in 2006 with trying to cut into Apple's massive lead in music. Despite some early favorable reviews, Zune has so far failed to mount much of a challenge.
Whatever flaws or limitations the Zune did or didn't have, when comparing the music player to the iPod, Microsoft just didn't present enough compelling reasons for owners to switch.
In January, Microsoft reported that Zune sales plunged 54 percent from $185 million in the last quarter of 2007 to $85 million during the same quarter a year later.
Stephenson, whose departure was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, is leaving as the Zune team tries to regroup. The company is in the middle of shifting from a device centered business to one that focuses on the portable player as just one of many places where consumers will be able to access the Zune service. Over time, Microsoft said it will be available on a range of devices, including Windows Mobile phones.
Microsoft is getting behind the launch of the latest version of the device, the touch-screen Zune HD, on September 15.
"I think the latest device and software, which we'll be launching soon, are our best to date," Stephenson told CNET News. "Looking at all the blogs and pre-sales, we've got a great year ahead.
"I think we've established a clear entertainment brand for Microsoft," Stephenson continued. "That's a big win. I'm really proud of our achievements. We've never had a consumer brand in music and video, so coupled with Xbox, we've got a compelling entertainment story and an established internal infrastructure to drive it forward."
Stephenson will become chief marketing officer at Interscope Geffen A&M Records, one of Universal's top labels. His last day at Microsoft is September 4 and he begins working for Interscope three days later.