AOL’s acquisition of Huffington Post makes for a “risky bet,” according to Scott Moore, partner and regional executive producer at Microsoft’s rival portal MSN. In a Q&A conducted by paidContent’s Staci D. Kramer at Federated Media’s Signal LA conference on Wednesday, he questioned whether HuffPo’s political bent would fit in at AOL (NYSE: AOL).
The leftward tilt of Huffington Post’s audience is something Moore knows all too well because the site is second only to MSNBC.com as the largest distributor of MSN TV video. “Their audience is very interested in Olbermann, Maddow,” said Moore. “Will that broad audience AOL has be able to embrace that thing or will some portion say, ‘That’s not my cup of tea, I’m out of here.’?”
Moore acknowledged that MSN has its own political identity problem to contend with given Microsoft’s joint ownership with Comcast of MSNBC.com, which doesn’t have the partisan news slant of the cable network MSNBC, which is entirely owned by Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA). Last year, The New York Times reported that MSNBC.com’s owners were contemplating a name change to avoid being perceived as a left-wing news source.
“Something has to happen because of that issue identified,” said Moore, who offered no further comment; he declined to even indicate whether such a name change would even happen this year.
Moore also addressed a host of other developments relevant to MSN, including:
MSN intends to take two of its brands international later this year to capitalize on the brand having a global digital-media audience of 450-500 million–that’s No. 1 across the world, as well as in the United Kingdom, France and Brazil (Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) is bigger than MSN in the U.S.). He hinted celebrity-gossip site Wonderwall is headed to France while women’s lifestyle site Glo will launch in an unspecified country in Asia. Both sites are produced for MSN by production company BermanBraun and already profitable in the U.S., according to Moore.
Moore said Bing is seeing some lift from selective curation of content for high-demand search results for terms like Super Bowl, which MSN editors stacked with high-relevance, high-quality information. That kind of curation has yielded two or three times the click-thru rate of normal search. It’s one of the value-adds Moore credits for helping Bing gain market share in search, which has increased from 7 today at launch in June 2009 to 12 percent today. “No one has gained share since Google (NSDQ: GOOG) came on the scene,” said Moore.
Moore revealed that integrated custom marketing is going gangbusters at MSN, where sales are driving roughly one-quarter of ad revenues. He pointed to the online success of the Today show concert series, which allow marketers to make cross-platform buys into MSNBC.com, a Today-branded mobile app and eventually XBox Live Marketplace could be added into the mix.
Moore was mum on specific totals for MSN revenue streams, but did note that while Yahoo is relatively flat and AOL is down 14 percent in premium display ads, MSN is “going in the exact opposite direction.” In terms of total audience, he said MSN is closing the gap on category-leader Yahoo, which was ahead by 30 million a year ago. Leaving aside email and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) Messenger, Moore said MSN is within 5 million users of Yahoo.