Microsoft lands ads for MSNBC site

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Microsoft Corp. said it has signed about a half-dozen advertisers for the Web version of MSNBC, the cable TV and Internet venture that launches July 15. Microsoft Network is handling Web ad sales, charging 4 cents per impression initially. NBC will handle cable sales. Ziff-Davis Publishing Co. will sell "The Site," a TV show and Web program on MSNBC that Ziff is co-producing.

MSNBC, a 50-50 venture of NBC and Microsoft, will make its debut in 22 million cable households, replacing NBC's America's Talking. At a press preview on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus on Tuesday, NBC News President Andrew Lack vowed MSNBC will be profitable in three to five years.

The venture will go up against CNN and News Corp.'s planned Fox cable news venture, set to make its debut in September. Tele-Communications Inc. on Monday announced it had taken an option to buy a 20% stake in the new Fox venture in return for distributing the channel to 10 million households. Mr. Lack said he expected cable giant TCI to make MSNBC widely available on its systems over time.

"There will be a lot of elbowing under the basket," he said. TCI owns 20% of MSN, though Microsoft executives said that would have no relation to TCI's distribution of MSNBC.

Mark Harrington, MSNBC general manager, acknowledged the importance of distribution on cable to generate an audience to sell advertisers. Mr. Harrington said there was room for two cable news channels, though he questioned whether there would be room for three.

Ironically, MSNBC may not be available in Microsoft's hometown of Seattle. TCI dominates the market and has not said whether it will carry the network in the area.

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