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September 20, 2007

Microsoft loses China, MSN execs

Posted by David Hunter at 11:50 PM ET.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that Timothy Chen had resigned as head of Microsoft Greater China Region and that the company was searching for a successor. All the press release said about Mr. Chen’s future plans was that he was assuming a leadership role outside the IT industry, but elaboration was soon forthcoming.

Chen is to run the National Basketball Association (NBA) China division, which is apparently perceived by the sports moguls to be a ground floor towering opportunity:

And the NBA is certainly more popular in China than Microsoft. According to the league, there are as many basketball fans in China—300 million—as there are people in the U.S. “It’s clear that China is the No. 1 growth opportunity for basketball in the coming years,” says Neal Pilson, founder of sports consulting agency Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports.

Without quibbling about the definition of basketball fan or Internet user, I would also observe that the number of Internet users in China is expected to pass that in the USA by the end of 2008 so likely there was more than market potential to Mr. Chen’s decision, but I digress.

Meanwhile over on the Web, Cameron Death, MSN’s US director of branded entertainment is leaving to lead digital development under Ben Silverman at NBC:

Mr. Death, who will become VP-digital content at NBC, and Mr. Silverman have worked together over the past couple years. In May 2006 Mr. Silverman’s Reveille inked a first-look web development deal with MSN, which at the time was said to rankle NBC, with whom Mr. Silverman had a first-look TV development deal. MSN used the partnership to craft several branded-entertainment programs, including “Chef to the Rescue” with Cat Cora, to which it signed Kraft as a first-season sponsor. Another program, “Nanny Connie,” included video of the 6-foot-3-inch nanny-to-the-stars doling out advice on caring for babies, with interactive features that allow moms to test their knowledge against Nanny Connie’s or ask her specific parenting questions.

Previously, I made minor fun of the Reveille deal where the “branded entertainment” has a distinct infomercial flavor (let’s just say that Cat Cora’s cooking is Kraft-intensive). However, the real question is who watches any of this stuff? In fact, who has ever heard of it or can find it on the MSN Web site without knowing the name ahead of time to pop into site search? Even that doesn’t help with Nanny Connie who seems to be AWOL. I guess the broadcast crowd thinks somebody is pining for such fare since Mr. Death’s apparent objective in his new job is providing yet more online branded entertainment, but I wonder if MSN will continue to distribute it.

Filed under Employee Retention, General Business, MSN, MSN Content, Microsoft

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