IQ News: Microsoft Network To Announce New ‘Season’



By Anya Sacharow





Tuesday, April 15, is more than tax day this year. The Microsoft Network is expected to announce the next 13-week programming schedule for its Web service. ‘It’s like a TV model where the programming is season-driven,’ said Lara Stein, East Coast manager of content development for m3p, Microsoft’s in-house producers for MSN.





Teasers for the new shows will run in the On Stage area of www.msn.com. Only MSN subscribers, however, can access the actual ‘shows,’ which will be carried on MSN’s six topical channels starting this week. Designed like TV networks, the channels offer programming grouped in such areas as news, entertainment, kids, adventure and home and lifestyle.





Last December MSN launched with about two dozen shows, most of which were created in-house. Many of them, including Retrospect 360 and 15 Seconds of Fame, will not run in the new season. Others such as Underwire, Rifff, Mungo Park and Star Trek: Continuum will carry over. A show’s status is based on costs and viewership, much like television. ‘By week six or seven we’ll determine if a show is going to make a second season,’ said Stein.





In the new season, MSN will launch more shows developed by outsiders. Hearst New Media, Planet Theory, Icon Network and Sunshine Interactive all have been working on projects. Shows from bigger content outfits–the Henson Group, Paramount Pictures and Disney –are on tap for future MSN seasons.





MSN currently claims 2 million subscribers, an audience it wants to grow and package to advertisers using the TV network model and the lure of hit shows. America Online, PointCast and Excite are also experimenting with the channel format. ‘It’s a clear way of organizing content,’ said Arielle Dorros, associate media director at i-traffic, a New York interactive media shop. ‘On the Web you don’t have to convert the marketing target into a media target. You can go to (Disney’s) www.family.com and have a direct line to the marketing target.’





Outside the digital community, buying agencies are taking a cautious approach to Web channels–even if they are from Microsoft. ‘It sounds like an attempt to shuffle the deck a little and see if better cards are dealt,’ said Walter Staab, president of SFM Media. ‘There are better ways of determining who’s watching and how they react. Advertisers want to feel more comfortable before they spend money.’





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