Next Tuesday, MSNBC’s new website msnbc.com will go live in a public beta. Later this month, it will formally take back the URL, which has redirected visitors to NBCNews.com since NBC acquired control of the site 15 months ago.
At a press briefing this morning at NBC’s 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters, MSNBC president Phil Griffin and msnbc.com executive editor Richard Wolffe unveiled the new site (which was built from scratch), and explained what their goal was in designing it.
“We are the platform for the Lean Forward, progressive community,” Griffin said. “We hope it benefits television, but it will be in and of itself its own medium.”
The new site will not be a “news” site, per se, but more of a social hub for viewers of MSNBC programming. Social will be a focal point, with tight integration with the major social networks, and deep “profiles” that users can create for themselves. The channel’s full video archive will be searchable, with the last two years available at launch, and more videos from the past slowly rolling out. Users can also watch the live MSNBC TV feed on the site… provided they authenticate that they are a cable or satellite customer. Fox News and CNN have similar products.
The homepage will heavily focus on clean visuals (not unlike the upcoming new CNN.com), but it will only have 10 news stories or videos in the pageflow. Users can also navigate to pages for shows, or news topics, if they want to delve deeper. 10 stories seems somewhat limiting, but Wolffe addressed that while explaining the design.
“[It] forces us to make some tough choices, but for us it is kind of easier than for other people, because we know who we are, we know who are audience is,” Wolffe said. “We are not trying to cater for everyone, we are not trying to be a portal, this is about the spirit of MSNBC.”
User interaction will be a big part of the site, with comments displayed to the right of stories instead of underneath them. The hope is to spur debate among commenters… civil debate. Wolffe said that the commenting technology automatically converts all upper-case comments to lower case, and reminds the commenter to calm down.
“There is a code of conduct, we want people to be respectful, we don’t want obscenities, we don’t want racism or abuse but there is going to be active commenting,” he said. “Our audience loves debates, they like seeing Steve Schmidt debate Rachel Maddow, they like seeing Michael Steele debate Chris Matthews, debate is welcome here, as long as it is respectful and not abusive.”
For MSNBC, it is also a bet on the future of news and information consumption.
“If you are under 30, there are not a lot of people watching MSNBC live,” Griffin said. “I go to college campuses and I ask ‘how many people love Rachel Maddow?’ and everybody goes crazy. ‘How many watch at nine eastern time on MSNBC?’ A couple of professors raise their hand.
“They are watching it online, they are watching it in different ways,” he added. “You better be in this space, especially if you want to appeal to a younger audience, which we do.”
The bet is that media consumption is going through a seismic shift, as young people who don;t watch much live TV grow up, and expect their media consumption habits to grow up with them.
“In five to 10 years, who knows how people are going to access MSNBC?” Griffin said. “This is just the price of admission now, and if you aren’t in this space in a few years, in a big way, in an advanced way, you aren’t going to succeed.
“Someday it is going to happen, that the digital side is bigger than the TV side, and that day is likely soon,” he added.