The chief executive of the world’s largest personal computer software firm and sixth most visited site on the Web said he had no interest in acquiring The New York Times or other leading print brands, as a way of distinguishing either its portal or search businesses.
“No,’’ said Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer, outside the McGraw-Hill Building in Manhattan this morning. “Not ‘no comment.’ No.”
Ballmer’s comment came after he was the featured speaker at the opening of the second day of the 2009 Business Week Media Summit. The McGraw-Hill Companies publish Business Week and other print publications.
Microsoft, as opposed to other operators of Web portals, has shown an interest in creating unique content online and over cable networks.
In 1996, Microsoft owned and launched Slate, which has attempted to define what an online magazine about current issues could and should be. The site was purchased by The Washington Post Company in 2004.
In that same year, Microsoft partnered with the NBC broadcasting company to launch a 24-hour news channel, MSNBC, as well as a related Web site, msnbc.com. Microsoft reduced its stake in the channel in 2005 to 18%, although it still owns half of the site.
Now, Microsoft is working on a “set change” in how it approaches search on the Internet, code-named Kumo.com. Exclusive high-quality news, behind a registration or pay wall, could distinguish either a refashioned search business or its Web portal.
Stock in The New York Times has fallen to $4.54 a share, as May 1 approaches, when a revolving credit agreement expires. The company has sought infusions of cash from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and through a sale and leaseback of its new headquarters building in Times Square.
At its current price, The New York Times has a market worth of $653.6 million, making a purchase for under $1 billion easily conceivable. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. two years ago paid $5 billion for The Wall Street Journal, before newspaper prices plunged and a variety of newspapers and magazines went out of business or went online only.
A strategic partnerships manager for the YouTube unit of archrival Google said Wednesday at the same summit that Google was strictly a technology company and had no interest in creating or acquiring the creators of news or other content. But Microsoft, in the past, has invested in content creation – to wit Slate and MSNBC – and currently has partnerships with Newsweek, CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, related to MSN.com.
“We’ve done some good stuff,’’ Ballmer told ZDNet. But, he said, “we’ve decided that, in general, owning the portal is an interesting kind of merger of a lot of things. But actually owning media content of that ilk probably does not need to be part of our strategy.”
Last year, Ballmer proposed paying $44.6 billion to acquire the more-highly trafficked Web portal, Yahoo, and combine the two companies’ search businesses in an attempt to catch up with market leader Google.