Microsoft and News Corp. are pursuing yesterday's solution to today's challenges

News Corp.’s alleged plan to shield its online content from Google’s search engine in favor of having it indexed by Microsoft’s Bing is a brilliant content business strategy… for the 20th Century.

But, today, it illustrates just the latest example of backward-thinking by legacy media executives who’ve been left lost and clueless by the Internet revolution.

Microsoft needs to do something to distinguish Bing from market leader Google. (And simply renaming its Live search engine didn’t get that done.) News Corp., like any business looking for growth, wants to find a new source of revenue.

So, instead of making its content available for indexing on all search engines, News Corp. could decide to make it available only to one search index, in exchange for payment or some other consideration from that search engine’s owner. On the surface, the deal makes great sense for both sides: News Corp. gets cash (or some other payment of value) and Microsoft gets unique content in its search results – pages that readers can’t find elsewhere.

That’s the way many successful content deals have happened in the past. Think how sports leagues sell broadcast rights to their games to selected networks or channels. Or how cable and satellite companies have split popular channels across several packages, “encouraging” customers to move up to more expensive subscription tiers. It’s all about exchanging cash for access.

But that model is beginning to fail. The benefit to Microsoft in a potential deal with News Corp. is having News Corp. pages in its Bing search results that readers could not find elsewhere.

Except… they can. Tim Berners-Lee’s analogy of the Internet as a Web is complete. Content no longer exists solely within silos, accessed only through its defined channel. Online content is enmeshed with that web – linked to, and thereby accessible from, countless outside sources.

News Corp. can close its content to Google’s spiders. But Google will continue to index the millions of other webpages, including blogs, Twitter feeds, discussion forums and other news sites, that link to News Corp. webpages, from Fox News reports to Myspace profiles. Those linking pages will continue to provide access to News Corp. content through Google and other search engines, even when (or if) News Corp. changes its robots.txt file to block Googlebot.

Some bloggers and other writers have reacted to the news of a possible deal with glee – hoping that exclusion from Google will render News Corp. content invisible on the Web. Heck, I’d love to see all references to the Fox News’ cynical Republican-propaganda-masquerading-as-news disappear from the Web, too. But even if News Corp. withdraws its pages from Google, the references to those pages will not disappear. Taking News Corp. out of Google won’t make sites like Red State and Real Clear Politics vanish.

Producers have attempted to close these backdoor channels for content before. Who remembers the battles that many sports franchises fought with bloggers and even newspaper reporters to prevent them from posting scores and descriptions during games? The teams feared that online “broadcasts” of their games would compromise lucrative deals with radio and TV partners.

Today, those battles are mostly over. If anything, sports teams have moved on to trying simply to keep their athletes from Tweeting in the middle of games. Forget about the folks in the press box.

So what’s the value to Microsoft? Perhaps if News Corp. websites used Bing for their internal site search, there’d be some value in driving more readers to Microsoft’s search engine. But that’s a different deal, one that does not require exclusion from Google’s index. Perhaps News Corp.’s conservative audience might be convinced to use Microsoft’s Bing out of ideological loyalty, but let’s not forget that Microsoft is the “MS” in the right wing’s hated MSNBC. So that’s likely a non-starter.

I’ve heard many legacy news managers complain that the advertising model is dying online. From personal experience, both in my own ventures and watching others, I can attest that’s certainly not the truth. The model remains viable, even if it can no longer deliver the level of profit margin at the sales volume to which the news industry’s grown accustomed. (In math terms, the “model” is the equation that describes a relationship. The numbers that the model spits out can change even as the model remains the same.)

The Internet is killing one legacy media business model, however, and that’s the supply-side model based on creating value by restricting access to content. That’s the model upon which the News Corp.-Microsoft deal is based. While it might have worked in a pre-Web, channel-driven world, the public simply has spun too many ways around content-control deals to make this one worth Microsoft’s time or investment.

Bing will have to find another way to distinguish itself from Google.

And Rupert Murdoch will have to find other ways to make money off his crud.

About Robert Niles

Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


  1. This latest action would enhance the aggressive marketing strategies of microsoft. But in this time of free information current, this step is one step backward indeed.

  2. The Southeastern Conference, when it attempted to ban most media from covering its games early this season, conveniently forgot that the media was responsible for the fame of its schools and athletes in the first place. Without the bulk of the media covering those games for the last century, they wouldn’t have possessed the clout to sign yahoo and espn to lucrative deals and thereby ban other media outlets. Similarly, google and other sites are still profitting from the traffic they receive by users accessing content acquired from news sources. Especially with such a plethora of news outlets, people have little reason to stay loyal with one news outlet, though we journalist may long for the day when that happens. In the meantime, google is unduly reaping the financial traffic those media outlets bring to their mega search engine sites and applications, etc.. Google in turn would dispute that, arguing that their visitors will in turn go to the source of the news, i.e. Los Angeles Times, NY Times, etc. But in this age of the uniformed reader, the trend shows those site visitors reading just enough to stay on the search engine site without spending significant time on the news site. Let us therefore laud News corp. (though their content can hardly be considered news) for demanding money for content.

  3. Bing already ignores the existence of blogspot blogs in its search results, alienating a large proportion of active web users. But if Bing were to host exclusive content, it would need to be content that the public wants access to. Sadly, another news network isn’t going to cut it.

    Microsoft would be wiser jumping into bed with Google (as Apple have) especially when the majority of web users have PCs rather than Macs.