Microsoft pulls MSN shows

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Microsoft Corp. is canceling about half of the 20 "shows" introduced last fall on Microsoft Network and is preparing to send in replacements. The canceled shows -- including "475 Madison Avenue," a soap opera about an ad agency -- didn't draw enough advertising, according to executives at Microsoft.

While the revamping is dramatic, it also is in keeping with Microsoft's stated plans. When Microsoft unveiled a revamped MSN in October, an executive explained MSN was in the "hits business" and had replacements in development for programs that faltered. Microsoft is following the model of TV networks, which typically scrub more than half of new shows before they come up for renewal. Microsoft is trying to build a strong online network by pulling the plug quickly on poor performing shows in hopes that replacements draw more consumers and advertisers.

The company has 14 replacement shows in development, according to the Los Angeles Times, which Feb. 27 reported the plan to rejigger the schedule. Microsoft is not renewing contracts of the canceled shows, leading to layoffs of several hundred independent contractors. No Microsoft employees are being fired.

MSN has grown to 2 million subscribers from 1.6 million when the Web-based version of MSN was unveiled in October. But Exec VP-Chief Operating Officer Bob Herbold says it is too early to call MSN or Microsoft's other interactive media projects a business success.

"It's a fairly large and expensive experiment," Mr. Herbold said this week at the International Data Group Global Summit, an annual advertisers' conference. Mr. Herbold noted that MSN already had "morphed" three times as Microsoft worked to develop the right online service.

Copyright February 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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