February 26, 1998 5:00 AM PST

MSN cancels shows, gets practical

The Microsoft Network is lowering the final curtain on its shows, ending its rocky foray into the world of entertainment production.

The move to stop producing its own content, with a few exceptions, is part of MSN's overall strategy to become less entertainment-oriented and more practical, a direction in which it has been moving for the past several months.

"We're moving more toward distribution deals and being more of an aggregator than a producer of entertainment," said Laura Jennings, vice president of MSN. "We've put more and more of our energy into sites and services that help you get things done online."

And not coincidentally, those sites, such as the online travel site Expedia and CarPoint also are geared toward generating revenue both through advertisements and transactions.

Earlier this month, Microsoft also started testing a site, simply labeled "start" that will become its new front door for MSN and its other Web content. But the page, which will incorporate free email and a search engine, is intended to be a front door to more than Microsoft. It is intended to be one for all Netizens.

It's all part of Microsoft's narrowing focus on the practical and user friendly. Critics have long questioned Microsoft's ability to switch from its core business as a software developer to being a Web developer. But Microsoft executives say the shift has nothing to do with the company's competency outside the software realm. Rather, the shift is about Microsoft adapting to a market in constant flux.

Microsoft executives have been reshaping their Web effort for several months now. When MSN on the Web launched in 1996, the service was much broader than it is today.

But MSN found that with the exception of its online magazine Slate and games--a division that Jennings emphasized is going strong--Netizens for the most part simply weren't interested in say, substituting the Web for TV.

"Like everybody else in the industry we've been learning," Jennings said. "We learned that what people really want to do online is get things done."

And she added, when MSN launched, there wasn't as much content out there. Now there's plenty. "As the market has matured we no longer need to do everything ourselves."

MSN will stop producing @WaterCooler, Getworking, Mauny's Kitchen, One Click Away, Satori, Forever Cool, and CMJ new music now, and will stop producing Car Talk in August, according to Jennings. It will discontinue Cinemania and Music Central at the end of the year.

The shows will stop "airing" shortly after that but MSN may use reruns. About 40 Microsoft employees worked on the shows and will be reassigned within Microsoft, she said. The 10 contract employees will no longer work there.

 

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