Yusuf Mehdi, Corporate Vice President, MSN Personal Services & Business
REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 14, 2002 — With the U.S. release of MSN 8 on Oct. 24, Microsoft embarks on its most significant consumer launch of the year.
The technology behind MSN 8, designed to deliver Internet enthusiasts a more useful experience on the Web, is the culmination of thousands of hours of research and customer feedback. Microsoft designed MSN 8 to empower consumers to locate relevant and useful information on the Web, greatly reduce the amount of junk e-mail they receive and offer the most advanced parental controls of any Internet Service Provider.
Since launching MSN 7 one year ago, MSN has expanded its subscription business by 40 percent while remaining the most popular online portal destination. Yusuf Mehdi , Microsoft corporate vice president for MSN Personal Services and Business, recently sat down with PressPass to discuss the upcoming launch of MSN 8:
PressPass: What inspired Microsoft to develop MSN 8? What are the business reasons behind this release?
Mehdi: The single most important inspiration behind the design, development and delivery of MSN 8 is Microsofts commitment to providing consumers with the most useful Internet experience possible. Over the last couple of years weve been gathering feedback on a large scale, including thousands of hours spent talking directly with customers. What we learned is that there were many needs that werent being addressed by what was currently available industry-wide.
PressPass: What are some of your favorite features of MSN 8?
Mehdi: The features I am most proud of are those that most directly impact consumers. The junk-mail filters, for example, reduce junk e-mail by up to 80 percent. We worked with Microsoft Research to develop a sophisticated new technology that looks at not only the subject and the sender of an e-mail, but also at the actual body of the e-mail. The technology looks at the message more holistically, deciphering it contextually, and can be trained, based on what the customer considers junk mail. Take mortgages, for example. I can easily train the filter to send any messages with the phrase ‘free online mortgages’ — which generally indicates that someone is trying to sell me one directly to the junk folder. But, at the same time, if a friend writes me to tell me that hes taking out a second mortgage, that message wont automatically be sent to the junk folder just because it includes the word ‘mortgage.’
I am also really fond of the shared browsing feature that allows you to chat and browse the same sites at the same time with friends and family, enabling entirely new scenarios, such as taking people on a completely different computer in a completely different location to Web sites you want them to see.
And as a parent, I am very proud of MSN 8s parental controls. Its extremely important to me to know that there are ways I can supervise the time my children spend online, allowing them to learn and enjoy their Internet experience, while being protected.
PressPass: How does MSN 8 allow you to manage the time your children spend on the Internet?
Mehdi: In a number of ways. The parental controls in MSN 8 are very flexible and easy to customize according to a parents specific and unique needs. For example, parents can receive a weekly report highlighting the sites their child has visited. It can also let them know how long the child has been online. The parental controls can be customized at a very granular level, and thats something our research told us parents really wanted. Because we were driven by our goal to exceed current offerings, we did a lot of research not only with our own customers, but with customers who use parental controls from other companies, as well. We found that some of the parental tools on the market werent flexible — they were either on or off. They were also difficult to personalize to accommodate unique security requirements based on factors like the childs age and the family’s personal values. Our solution to that problem was to make it possible to customize based on a childs age level, specific URLs or approved contact lists for example, according to the users very unique needs and wants. Another great feature for parents is Safe Lists, which lets parents allow, block or limit the sending and receiving of e-mails and instant messages to and from addresses in a parent-approved contact list or address book.
PressPass: Why would a consumer opt to sign up for MSN 8 rather than simply using MSN.com?
Mehdi: The subscription-based MSN 8 offers consumers what theyve been asking for in an online experience. The primary benefit to consumers is that MSN 8 delivers innovative features like advanced communications tools and a better overall browsing experience through greater personalization and value-added software packages, such as Microsoft Encarta, MSN Money and Microsoft Picture It. For example, MSN 8 offers quick access to valuable information from the online encyclopedia Microsoft Encarta, which includes multi-media articles and content, financial software from MSN Money and photo-editing software from Microsoft Picture It. MSN 8 also offers advanced online safety features. In addition to the parental controls, there are anti-virus features and firewall protection for broadband users. When you combine all of this, you have a very compelling proposition for customers.
PressPass: The role that technology plays in everyones life is continually evolving. Are there key areas where MSN 8 addresses this that differ from other Internet service providers?
Mehdi: From the very beginning of the development process, weve been focused and committed to delivering a technology that truly meets the needs of consumers. There are consumers now who have been on the Internet for years, and there continue to be new people coming online everyday. With MSN 8, we have built a product that scales to the entire range of experience. From the Internet enthusiast to the brand new user, MSN 8 can be customized to meet their specific requirements. Most people are no longer looking for just an easy service, they’re looking for a useful service — and thats what were delivering with MSN 8 — advanced communications, parental controls, browsing tools — all of these things are provided with many levels of customization so that each MSN 8 subscriber can set up an Internet experience that is tailored just for him or her. We have raised the bar on what consumers can expect from their Internet experience and we will continue to do so with technology and innovation.
PressPass: Tell us about MSNs broadband strategy for this new version?
Mehdi: We are well-positioned with broadband availability in 70 major U.S. markets reaching more than 90 percent of DSL-capable homes. In addition to offering the service directly through MSN and resellers, both Qwest and Verizon offer MSN 8 as their default service.
PressPass: What are you offering for the broadband user?
Mehdi: First, MSN 8 Broadband is built on a technology platform we call Microsoft IntelliSpeed. IntelliSpeed maximizes the reliability and performance of the Internet experience, in addition to making set up easier. MSN 8 Broadband subscribers can also receive a home networking package that will allow them to connect multiple PCs and other devices throughout their home for no additional charge, in addition to receiving up to 20 percent off the Microsoft Broadband Networking Wireless Base Station. Free home networking support is another value-added service that will be delivered to MSN 8 broadband subscribers.
PressPass: How important is MSN 8 to Microsoft in general?
Mehdi: Very important.
This will be Microsoft’s largest consumer launch of the year, so the company is really rallying around it.
Through this latest version, were bringing new technologies and innovations to market in partnership with the Microsoft Research team, such as anti-spam research and support for XML in the Dashboard.
We are helping to meet the needs of consumers broadly now, not just at work, but also at home, by delivering a comprehensive and useful set of software services built on the best technology platform out there.
PressPass: In light of the significance of the launch of MSN 8, what type of campaign are you planning around the launch?
Mehdi: We’ve made a considerable investment in the marketing campaign around this launch; it will be our largest marketing spend ever, heralding the new theme, & quot;Its Better with the Butterfly. & quot; When consumers see the MSN butterfly, we want them to know they’re getting a superior service. Thats why the ($U.S.) $300 million marketing blitz begins with an event in Superior, Wisconsin and a simultaneous unveiling of a massive billboard in New York Citys Times Square. Broadcast, print and radio ads will begin appearing throughout the U.S. on October 24, presenting MSN Butterfly characters demonstrating how MSN 8 resolves the biggest Internet frustrations for consumers.
Press Pass: So whats next for MSN?
Mehdi: This is the product we know consumers are waiting for October 24 in New York City is only the beginning.
We are going to deliver MSN 8 to consumers around the country in very unique and creative ways its better with the butterfly and
MSN 8 will demonstrate that in groundbreaking ways, so stay tuned.