Why does Microsoft keep trying to buy its way into the consumer market?

Microsoft may have been looking to acquire social-media company Pinterest, according to a new report. But why?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor
Credit: Pinterest

Microsoft approached Pinterest "in recent months" about acquiring the social-media company, the Financial Times reported earlier this week. Thought the talks are no longer active, according to the FT, the move -- if accurate -- makes some of us Microsoft watchers shout into our quarantined spaces "WHY, MICROSOFT, WHYYYYY?" (OK, maybe just me. But the question is still real for a number of us.)

Microsoft is an enterprise software and services company that also has had success in gaming. Microsoft's attempts to try also become a major consumer-focused force have largely not gone well. That hasn't stopped Microsoft from looking for ways to try to parlay its enterprise success into the consumer space. There's even a Microsoft business unit called Modern Life and Devices dedicated specifically to this mission.

Microsoft execs over the years have said repeatedly that Microsoft can't afford to concede the consumer market. I don't mean financially concede, though I'm sure it would pain them to leave money on the table. But strategically concede because kids, students and other non-business customers could and hopefully will, one day, evolve into business customers. And if Microsoft doesn't go after this group of people, its competitors will. And that will put Microsoft's business franchises at risk. So goes the public reasoning for Microsoft's consumer obsession....

Microsoft avoided a major headache last year when it had to scrap its bid for TikTok. Though many of us tried to come up with a plausible list of reasons why the Microsoft-TikTok deal wasn't complete lunacy, doing so was challenging.

Some of the possible reasons for Microsoft's alleged interest in Pinterest are similar to those we mulled when thinking about TikTok's potential appeal.

Pinterest -- a self-described "visual discovery engine" -- is an AWS customer, the FT says. It has a strong advertising base, a monthly user base of 459 million (the majority of whom are younger women) and fits the profile of a company that comes with a built-in loyal community of users. Microsoft officials have said repeatedly that the company looks for strong, ready-made communities as a criteria for acquisitions like Mojang (Minecraft), GitHub and LinkedIn.

Microsoft has made a couple of partnership announcements with Pinterest -- the most recent of which involved its new Edge browser and its Collections feature. Microsoft's WebXT group is all about the connections between the browser, advertising and news/media.

So does all this add up to a good reason to spend billions on Pinterest? I guess Microsoft, Pinterest or both decided the answer was no.

People ask me often who I think Microsoft might buy next. I recite the usual list of likely markets for it to be considering -- security, AI, virtualization, gaming. But it seems like the powers-that-be at Microsoft also are more than willing to try to buy their way into the consumer space. I doubt Pinterest and TikTok will be the last consumer-centric companies Microsoft will consider when looking at ways to spend its cash.

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