REDMOND, Wash., July 17, 2000 — Following a year of rapid growth, MSN is now the world’s leading Internet destination, with 201 million unique users worldwide. To learn more about the importance of this current milestone and what lies ahead for MSN, PressPass spoke with Rick Belluzzo, group vice president of Microsoft’s Consumer Group, who joined the company last August. Here, Belluzzo discusses the hurdles his team has overcome during his first year on the job, and their progress toward realizing MSN’s goal of making the Internet an indispensable part of people’s daily lives.
MSN employees celebrate, after learning that MSN in June became the No. 1 worldwide Internet destination with 201 million unique users.
PressPass : What has you most excited about your work on MSN?
Belluzzo : Working with the team that has made MSN the number one destination on the Internet worldwide. Our outstanding senior management team — Brad Chase, Jon DeVaan, David Cole and Yusuf Mehdi — all bring significant technology and marketing experience to the table. This is a focused, agile organization geared toward understanding consumer needs incredibly well and delivering superior solutions for those needs. I am extremely proud of their dedication and amazed at the passion they show every day. In the past year, MSN has surpassed others in the industry by growing 19 percent to secure the number one spot on the Internet with 201 million unique users worldwide. In addition, our access business continues to grow, as we now have 3 million MSN Internet Access subscribers and another one million WebTV subscribers. Internationally, the number of unique users on MSN has grown 195 percent since June 1999.
I’m also excited by the outstanding partnerships we continue to develop. We’re working with some of the top companies in the industry to deliver MSN. Compaq, Dell, RadioShack and Best Buy are just four companies on our list of outstanding partners that we’re working with to deliver MSN through retail outlets, hardware and promotions.
PressPass : What do you think has attributed to MSN’s success?
Belluzzo : This team has a singular focus of making MSN’s vision of the Everyday Web a reality, and we are executing on that vision. We set a course focused on providing consumers the richest set of services for the things they want to do most on the Web: communicate, shop, manage personal finances and search for information. Our group is committed to making MSN services even easier to use and much more integrated, so that when consumers visit MSN they have a great experience and want to come back. Our phenomenal set of partnerships also has helped deliver on MSN’s Everyday Web vision. As a result, we’ve experienced incredible growth. MSN not only has millions of unique users visiting the portal every day, but once there users spend a remarkable amount of time. According to Media Metrix reports, U.S. home and work users spend an average of 94 minutes per month on MSN, more than any other major portal.
PressPass : Why do you think MSN is poised for continued success globally?
Belluzzo : Our vision is to make the Internet indispensable and relevant to consumers worldwide. We are focused on building and improving our best-of-breed services, which allow consumers access to the people and information that are important to them. We also believe it is fundamental that MSN services are delivered in the consumers’ own language and coupled with strong relevant local content.
Our strategy to offer integrated best-of-breed Internet services while teaming with strong local content providers has proved to be a winning combination. MSN is the most broadly deployed portal, with services in 33 markets in 17 languages. Currently MSN is number one in Australia, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It is also in the top three in six of the eight leading global markets.
PressPass : How has MSN’s role in the Everyday Web changed?
Belluzzo : It hasn’t. The Everyday Web vision continues to be at the heart of Microsoft’s strategy for MSN. It has three key elements: core services, partnerships, and making the Internet accessible any time, any place, and on any device. Our group is committed to making MSN services even easier to use and much more integrated, so that when consumers visit MSN they have a great experience and want to come back. MSN eShop is an example of one such integrated service. It takes consumers through the whole buying process, with a variety of resources to help them find what they want to buy.
Second, MSN’s vision is broadened through content partnerships with other companies. We are committed to providing premium content for MSN through partnerships with companies that have special expertise, such as WebMD on the Health channel, Career Builders on the Career channel and Ford on CarPoint. We’re also offering megaservices to extend some of the core services on MSN to third parties, so they can offer great services to their customers as well. One example of this is Microsoft Passport, a service that provides one consolidated login and wallet.
The third way MSN is delivering on the Everyday Web vision is by making its content and services available any time, any place, and on any device. No other portal is in a position to deliver not only the services and the access, but also a variety of devices that offer consumers a choice. We have unique, longstanding relationships with OEMs to help manufacture devices such as MSN Companion that will provide easy and affordable Internet access. Mobile users have wireless access to MSN content and services through our MSN Mobile service, and we continue to deliver more content and services to WebTV users. It’s great for consumers, because MSN can now take all of these elements and customize them for a simpler and more streamlined user Internet experience.
Moshe Lichtman, left, Microsoft vice president, Consumer Group International, Rick Belluzzo, Microsoft group vice president, Consumer Group and Brad Chase, senior vice president of MSN.com celebrate MSN’s record-setting performance.
PressPass : What is Microsoft doing to further demonstrate its commitment to the Internet?
Belluzzo : I think we’ve demonstrated that the company “gets the Internet” by being in a leadership position. Microsoft has had great success with the development of Internet Explorer and has shown leadership in supporting the latest Internet technologies. Microsoft has also demonstrated leadership by providing what is now the most popular email service in the world, the Web-based MSN Hotmail service, with over 67 million active users worldwide and support for nine languages. We’ve seen incredible growth in the number of people using the MSN Search service, launched last September, to more than 19 million U.S. users according to Media Metrix, and over 18 million users of MSN Messenger Service. Over 3 million users subscribe to MSN for their Internet access. Furthermore, the entire MSN portal has experienced tremendous growth and involvement, with over 201 million unique visitors per month. This huge, active customer base speaks for itself.
I think the best measure of our success is how well Microsoft understands the consumer, and the consumer’s preferences and desires regarding the Internet. A tremendous amount of research has gone into better understanding what consumers want from their Web services — our services evolve as a result of these findings. MSN Mobile, the MSN Companion, WebTV and, of course, MSN Internet Access for the PC are all examples of how Microsoft is adapting the Web to consumers, rather than forcing consumers to change their behavior to access the full power of the Web.
PressPass : How have Microsoft’s various investments in the Internet space supported the goal of the Everyday Web?
Belluzzo : We are working to provide compelling content and superior services that consumers want. That said, MSN has refined its strategy to focus on the things it does best. We are a software company geared toward meeting consumer needs. We take advantage of this core strength by using MSN to provide an integrated set of core services online, helping users become more productive on the Internet. And for content, where Microsoft does not have a core competency, we choose to partner with other companies whose expertise complements our own. An example of this is our partnerships with RollingStone.com for content on the MSN Entertainment channel.
I think we also have to keep in mind that the Internet has changed drastically in the past two years. In fact, according to Media Metrix, the top 15 Internet sites in January 1996 were different from the top 10 sites in June 1999, with the exception of three sites. That means only three out of 15 sites were able to maintain a leadership position from 1996 to 1999. That tells us this is an incredibly competitive and volatile arena, where opportunity exists for those who figure out how to be relevant and meaningful, and who provide the kind of software and services users want.
PressPass : What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced since joining Microsoft?
Belluzzo : I’d say it’s learning this ever-changing business from the inside. It’s been really exciting for me to get up to speed quickly and become a part of this important business at Microsoft.