How bad has MSNBC’s brand become? Even the website which serves as its platform wants a name change:
NBC Universal and Microsoft, the parents of MSNBC.com, are holding high-level talks about a name change, something that could be a risky endeavor for the third most popular news Web site in the United States.
The two parents have determined that the brand of MSNBC.com, a strictly objective news Web site, is widely confused with MSNBC, the cable channel that has taken a strongly liberal bent in recent years, according to internal memorandums obtained by The New York Times this week.
Charlie Tillinghast, MSNBC.com’s president, wrote in a memo last March, “Both strategies are fine, but naming them the same thing is brand insanity.” The channel and Web site are already separate companies.
In the beginning, the website and the channel had the same purpose, which was to extend NBC News’ reach into a 24/7 cable channel and the Internet, becoming the first of the traditional broadcast networks to compete with CNN and Fox News Channel. That should have been a big success; NBC had plenty of resources in its news division, plus enough content from its broadcast network in the form of Today, NBC Nightly News, Meet the Press, and Dateline to feature along with original programming from the cable side. The website could act as a portal that delivered hard news, features, and opinion and generate its own audience as well as cater to NBC’s television shows.
That strategy derailed as the cable channel became unhinged. Now the brand is so damaged that only 12% of the marketplace trusts it, and MSNBC has become synonymous with hard-Left diatribes. Small wonder the website wants a new brand, especially since it has tried to fulfill its original mission of representing the broader NBC product. And the decision to give up a well-established domain name is a big indication of just how much the cable channel has damaged the brand:
Giving up a Web address as popular as MSNBC.com is highly unusual; it is akin to a business closing a bustling storefront and posting a sign that asks customers to visit its new location. For a Web site, at least, the new location is only a click away; nonetheless, MSNBC.com may risk sacrificing years of built-up brand loyalty by coining a new name for the news site.
Right now, the network is still debating whether to move at all, but they do have a code name for a potential new MSNBC-less site: “Blue.” That sounds more like a description of MSNBC, or perhaps a description of the mood in the news division at 30 Rock these days. I suspect they’ll use the domain NBCNews.com, which they already own, and which is more descriptive of the website’s mission anyway.
Addendum: I used to wonder why ABC and CBS never bothered to enter the cable-channel sweepstakes, but I’d also hazard a guess that the NBC experience warned them that they could cause significant brand damage if the cable channel got out of control.