Remember 1997? John Howard was less than halfway through his Prime Ministership. Jeff Kennett was Victorian Premier. Steve Jobs returned to Apple. It was the year of the Thredbo landslide. Michael Hutchence hanged himself in a Sydney hotel room. Princess Diana died.
And NineMSN was born, as a 50:50 joint venture between Australia’s Nine Network and Microsoft. It seems a very long time ago, and in Internet years it is. Google didn’t even exist until the following year. Yes, 16 years is an eternity in the world of technology.
NineMSN seemed like a good idea at the time – a marriage of Australia’s dominant TV network and the World’s largest software company. The two partners stumped up $25 million each, and NineMSN became Australia’s most popular website.
Now Microsoft has sold its half share in the company that runs NineMSN, Mi9, to what is now called the Nine Entertainment Company (confusingly known as NEC). The price was not disclosed. Nine’s CEO David Gyngell said the deal ensured that “the Nine Network has cemented its digital future, buying Microsoft’s 50% share of Mi9 – which includes all the ninemsn websites.
"From 1 November, Nine will take control of Mi9,” his website quotes him as saying. “This agreement will see Mi9 continue to provide market leading digital solutions to Australian consumers and advertisers.”
NineMSN reports that Microsoft has signed a “long term strategic partnership” agreement, whereby Mi9 will continue to represent Microsoft's suite of advertising products, “while leveraging their world leading technology, data, insights and innovation.”
Gyngell said the agreement allows Nine to retain the key elements of its strategic partnership with Microsoft. “It strengthens the platform for our growing digital video business and ultimately allows us to control 100% of our digital future.”
Microsoft is happy to stick to its knitting. "Mi9 is a true leader in Australia’s digital marketplace and we’re confident in the company’s continued success," said Axel Steinman, Vice President for Emerging Markets, Microsoft Advertising. "Our strategic partnership agreement will see the continuation of our strong relationship with Mi9 and Nine well into the future," he said.
Gyngell said ninemsn.com.au and ninenews.com.au were visited by 12 million Australians each month. “This is alongside the nearly 400,000 Australians who have downloaded and interact with Mi9 and Nine’s second screen app Jump-in.”
But Mine MSN has lost its premier ranking in recent years. Nielsen’s most recent ratings have news.com.au at number one, with Nine MSN and Yahoo!7 News close behind (though if Fairfax’s SMH and Age were combined, they would easily be number one).
NineMSN worked. It had a great run. But the media landscape has changed immeasurably since NineMSN kicked off in 1997. Nine was then owned by PBL, Kerry Packer’s media conglomerate (he still had eight years to live). The dot.com boom was nearing its heady peak, and all sorts of companies were into all sorts of media deals – AOL’s disastrous January 2000 purchase of Time Warner is reckoned as the beginning of the end.
Nine is not the dominant network it once was. The Packers are long gone and it is owned by US hedge funds and struggling under a mountain of debt. And the world is going online.
This might be a good deal, but only if it helps Nine make the transition to the New Media World it so desperately needs to do..