This week, TimeWarner, completed the spinoff of the online service that was at one point the initial part of its corporate name…AOL. TimeWarner believes that the online portal is not core to its business, and that its non market-leadership would be best cured by independent management.
Should Microsoft do a similar spinoff of MSN? Is “the butterfly” doing well under Redmond’s PC software-oriented management? Despite an impending re-design, and a respectable market share in the US and global markets, MSN feels stuck in time and in a gradual decline. As with AOL and TimeWarner, MSN does not seem core to Redmond’s mission. And I’ve heard rumors that MSN is where Microsoft shifts personnel that are not succeeding elsewhere, to get them out of the way. That’s just a rumor. But, if true, that strategy wouldn’t help anybody, least of all MSN.
I’m not talking about Bing, or Bing Maps, or even Windows Live (properties which used to carry the MSN brand but conveniently do not any longer). I’m not even sure if I’m talking about MSNBC. But I am talking about the core portal and its departments, like MSN Money and MSN City Guides. Those sites have no developer story that I know of, and have never been a good partner in terms of pushing Silverlight (the now defunct MSN SoapBox used Flash; MSN Video only recently converted and has in any case rebranded to Bing Videos).
Had Microsoft actually acquired Yahoo, keeping certain MSN properties in-house would make sense. But Yahoo is still independent, and yet it is a Bing partner and MSN competitor, which to me provides two reasons for spinning MSN off right there. Also, MSN (exclusive of Bing) does not really compete with Google. Maybe that’s a third reason to let the former go.
Even if spun off, MSN could still be owned by Microsoft. It could retain its first initial. It could continue to help be a primary channel for Bing searches, and it could begin anew to provide similar support for Silverlight. But like Expedia, another erstwhile Microsoft Internet property, MSN and Microsoft (proper) might each do better on their own.