Microsoft is expected to launch its own news service independent of NBC in the fall.
Both NBC and Microsoft praised the partnership but indicated it was time for both companies to control their digital destinies.
Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said in a morning conference call, "This is an exciting day for NBC News. … We want to make sure we have direct control of our digital future. … We are not doing this as a way to cut costs." He said other companies were cutting journalism jobs, while this deal showed a commitment to news.
Vivian Schiller, the former chief executive officer of National Public Radio, will head NBC News Digital, whose websites, in addition to NBCNews.com, will include NightlyNews.com, BreakingNews.com, newsvine.com, EveryBlock.com, thegrio.com, NBCPolitics.com, and EducationNation.com.
This is the second recent deal for Comcast involving NBCUniversal, which it acquired in early 2011. The cable giant disclosed in a federal regulatory filing on July 10 that it sold its 15.8 percent stake in A&E Television Networks L.L.C. for $3 billion in cash — some of which can be used to purchase the 50 percent in MSNBC.com.
Comcast owned the 15.8 percent share through NBCUniversal. It sold the stake back to its partners in A&E, the Walt Disney Co., and Hearst Corp.
NBC officials said Monday that Comcast negotiated the deal with Microsoft, though Comcast officials did not participate in an hour-long press call announcing it Monday morning. Comcast and Microsoft have had close relations for years. Brian Roberts, the chief executive and chairman of the Philadelphia cable company, is a friend of Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates'. In financial terms, this was a minor transaction for Comcast, which has a stock-market capitalization of about $85 billion.
There are about 300 employees in MSNBC.com, many of them in Seattle.
NBC executives said they will keep the MSNBC name because of its brand recognition with viewers and because they obtained ownership of the name as part of the deal.
Phil Griffin, the president of MSNBC, said that the cable channel has "found its voice" and that "the performance of the cable channel cannot be questioned." MSNBC ranks consistently No. 2 in the news channel category, behind Fox. Its ratings can be beaten by CNN for big breaking news stories.
Griffin described MSNBC as progressive and said executives believe a related "point-of-view" website will be a success. "Our space is wide open," he said. "That's our intention, to own that space."
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