MSNBC.com Reluctant On Registration

By: Carl Sullivan

While some newspapers are requiring user registration on their Web sites, the nation’s largest news site is hesitant to follow the model.

“We’re still about massing eyeballs,” said MSNBC.com Senior Vice President and Editor in Chief Merrill Brown during an interview at MSNBC’s studios and online operations here. “We’ve been reluctant to do anything beyond what would be considered minimally intrusive for our users.”

In other words, visitors to MSNBC.com might get a pop-up box asking for their ZIP code, but not much more. So far, the site hasn’t required users to fill out sometimes lengthy forms requesting demographic data, as some newspapers are now doing.

“Registration is just one strategy, which we are considering for e-mail newsletters and chats,” Brown said.

“Our strategy is a little bit different,” said MSNBC.com Executive Editor Michael Silberman. Instead of asking for personal information, MSNBC is focusing on delivering contextual ads that “follow” users as they navigate the site. The New York Times on the Web is trying a similar strategy, calling the approach “surround sessions.”

The site has also created some special sections that are sponsored by advertisers, such as a back-to-school package. These sponsorships are considered on a case-by-case basis, Silberman said. “For us, the most important thing is how you label the package,” he said. “The trickier issue is adjacency. We wouldn’t allow a movie ad to run on a review of the movie.”

Brown added that MSNBC.com is considering subscription fees for select content, including archives. “I don’t think we would ever entertain a subscription model for the entire site,” he said. MSNBC.com currently sells some niche sports content and syndicates content to other outlets.

Attracting about 4 million users a day, MSNBC.com still believes it can make money from advertising. After cutting some positions last year, the site is “not in cost-cutting mode right now,” Brown said. “But if things don’t pick up this quarter, we’ll re-evaluate that at the end of the quarter.”

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