MSN and Rodale Partner on New Content Site

Joint Venture a Sign of How Web Is Becoming More Like Network TV

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NEW YORK ( -- In what appears to be a growing adoption of the network-TV model, web portal MSN and Men's Health publisher Rodale have formed a partnership around a new fitness and health site called Fitbie, which launches today on MSN.

The site will be produced by Rodale, and MSN will sell advertising, a partnership that effectively matches MSN's massive audience with Rodale's editorial expertise. The venture mimics, to some extent, TV's long-ago form of producers creating content for a few networks where almost all TV viewers congregated nightly. Of course, the web features a much more fractured audience and across an infinite array of destinations, but the top properties after Google every month are almost consistently Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Facebook.

"That's exactly the analogy I use in my approach to internet publishing -- portals are analogous to TV networks," said Scott Moore, regional executive producer at Microsoft. "We have huge audiences, we develop some of our own content, but at this stage in the web, there are category experts like Rodale."

"And that makes us a studio, which is pretty cool," said Steve Madden, VP of creative services and digital production at Rodale.

Mr. Moore said that MSN's content strategy differs from Yahoo and AOL in that it has looked to form partnerships with existing companies, rather than buying them outright, as AOL recently did with TechCrunch, or building them in-house as Yahoo has done.

"As a business, this appeals to content providers," Mr. Moore said, citing MSN's partnership with BermanBraun and Hachette for its lifestyle site Glo, which launched in April. MSN also partnered with BermanBraun on its celebrity site, Wonderwall.

Mr. Madden said the partnership allows them to appeal to advertisers beyond their own audience. Fitbie's content will be a mix of original articles and features, produced by a standalone staff of seven editors, as well as some content pulled from Rodale's stable of magazines, which include Men's Health and Women's Health.

Neither Rodale nor MSN would discuss the terms of the partnership in terms of ad dollars, but typically such deals are formed around and even split. Mr. Moore cautioned these partnerships are not entirely about advertising, even though that is the main source of revenue.

"Rodale is an expert at e-commerce and subscription programs," Mr. Moore said, explaining that Rodale's books, such as fitness and cookbooks, will be for sale within Fitbie, and that users will have the opportunity to buy various subscription products online, such as its weight-loss program that includes online tools and newsletters.

While Rodale has already appealed to a specific audience with its various websites and magazines and books, it's appearance on MSN will allow it to appeal to a much bigger audience, a prospect that would appeal to most major magazine operations, which have failed to gain scalable audiences online.

MSN brought in 124 million readers for the month of October, according to ComScore, which places it just behind Yahoo's 179 million readers and ahead of AOL's audience of 110 million.

"This is a game-changer for us because of the number of users it exposes us to," Mr. Madden said.

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