Microsoft’s devotion to Bing is straining some of its MSN partner relationships—and has even cost the company some cash.
The portal’s sales staff has been irked for some time by Microsoft posting myriad links to Bing on the home page rather than to MSN properties, the New York Post reported. And more recently, several high-profile MSN partners are feeling shafted by Bing hogging prime real estate on the MSN home page. According to sources, Hearst’s Delish.com endured such a traffic haircut in late summer/early fall of last year that MSN executives had to a write a check for a few hundred thousand dollars just to preserve the partnership.
Additionally, a pair of BermanBraun projects have also experienced a shortfall: Wonderwall, the celeb photo site, and Glo, the women’s mag launched last April in conjunction with Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. The problem became so acute that a fired up Lloyd Braun paid a personal visit to Microsoft HQ before the holidays to try to rectify the situation.
According to comScore, while Delish reached over 5 million uniques soon after launching in 2008, its audience slipped to 3.2 million unique users as recently as last April before bouncing back to 4.3 million by December. Nielsen found that Delish’s audience slid about 9 percent in 2010—while Bing’s jumped 10 percent.
Glo.com also had a strong start, hitting 6.4 million uniques last June before losing 2 million users by October, per comScore. By December, Glo’s audience had returned—but only after rounds of discussions between the partners.
Wonderwall, which had consistently delivered 11-12 million unique users, plummeted to 7.2 million users last November, per comScore. Per Nielsen, Wonderwall’s traffic slid a total 12 percent in 2010. The drop was even more precipitous—minus 43 percent as of December—according to comScore’s panel-only data (which offers a more apples-to-apples comparison).
Hearst and BermanBraun declined to comment for this story. Philippe Guelton, however, Hachette’s evp and COO, painted Glo as a soaring success. “Glo is profitable and we are sold out,” he said. “We are looking into expanding into Asia and Europe.”
Insiders say that while MSN’s partners are now being tended to better—particularly since global ad sales chief Carolyn Everson took up the cause in a big way—the issue remains.
“The revenue numbers are fine, but Bing is sucking the life out of MSN,” said a person with knowledge of the situation. Last Friday, for example, the top panel image on the MSN home page read, “This Week in Search,” while a section on the right side of the page featured 14 different links to Bing searches at the expense of MSN channels and partner sites.
Microsoft is clearly going to have to juggle its priorities. “This is something they need to decide on the corporate level,” said one close observer. Said another: “What does it say about Bing that they have to do this at the expense of MSN? Especially as the display market heats up?”
Microsoft execs declined to comment, but in a statement, Adam Sohn, the company’s senior director, online services, said: “Microsoft is investing more than ever in the success of its online services, including MSN and Bing. Content and partnerships remain a critical part of this strategy, as is a healthy and growing search business.”