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Microsoft Collaborates With Hollywood TV

New York Times reports that nearly 10 years after wholeheartedly but prematurely embracing original entertainment programming on the Web, Microsoft is re-entering the fray.

But instead of attempting to contort itself into a media company by hiring scores of relatively unknown writers and producers and go it virtually alone, this time Microsoft has chosen to team up with some high-profile Hollywood talent. The first deal for its 'MSN Originals' initiative is an alliance with Ben Silverman, one of the prime movers behind importing the reality show craze to the United States and the producer of shows like "The Office" and "The Biggest Loser" on NBC.

The one-year, multimillion-dollar deal calls for the creation of 10 Web pilots for MSN, each tailored to one or more strengths of the Web. To harness the Web's attributes, many of the shows and applications will wrap around them community offshoots, commerce opportunities and the ability to dig deeper for related segments or information. Product placement, a specialty of Mr. Silverman, will also be an integral part of the programming.

And in a final twist, Mr. Silverman's Reveille, the independent production company he founded and runs, will be able to turn any of the Web shows into television series. Microsoft will have a financial stake in any resulting show. "We are all about building brands that can go across mediums," Mr. Silverman said.

Microsoft's move comes as it is looking to jazz up its MSN portal, one part of its accelerating competition with Google, Yahoo and AOL. Ultimately Microsoft executives want to lure more Web users to MSN, keep them there longer than they have stayed in the past and sell plenty of advertising to marketers wishing to woo them.

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