Microsoft Channels 8 and 10 Join Analog TV

S-o-o-o-o, US TV broadcasters aren’t alone pulling the plug on their analog channels. Microsoft is closing down channels 8 and 10 and folding some of their content into Channel 9. Someone at Microsoft thinks this is good marketing? It’s a great idea if the goal is for existing and potential customers to start switching channels.

That’s assuming people haven’t switched already, given the gravity Facebook, YouTube and, to a lesser degree, Twitter exert on online behavior and content.

I don’t oppose Microsoft doing some consolidation. Too much of a good thing is too much of a good thing. Too many video sites, particularly with so much content going to YouTube, fragments the audience. It’s the how and why of the consolidation that bugs me. Where Microsoft plans to send existing audiences doesn’t make lots of sense, unless Channel 9 is going to morph into a site that serves a much broader audience than developers.

But that approach only really benefits the sites channeling to 9. Microsoft shouldn’t want to alienate its core developer audience who faithfully watch Channel 9 content and participate in the comment community. So, unless the somebodies making decisions on Microsoft’s evangelism team are incredibly stupid, Channel 9 will largely keep its developer focus, and content and audience coming from the other channels will be lost.

Yesterday, TechFlash’s Todd Bishop interviewed me for his compelling news story about Microsoft’s channel switch. When reading Todd’s post this morning, I nearly fell out of my chair because of a statement attributed to long-time Microsoft evangelist Jeff Sandquist. He used Gawker’s Valleywag repositioning as example for why the channel consolidation makes sense.

In my interview with Todd, I planned to use Gawker’s folding popular Valleywag into the main domain as example of what not to do; I got distracted and forgot. Gawker’s bean-counter reasoning: Shifting Valleywag traffic to the main domain would be better for advertising sales. Yeah? The switch killed the Valleywag brand, and Gawker lost traffic along the way for a number of reasons—among them: reader overlap across the two branded sites and diminished Valleywag visibility and branding.

Hello, earth to Jeff. What are you thinking? Maybe you’ve been drinking too much of your own Kool-Aid. The Gawker-Valleywag reasoning is flawed and a half. Gawker’s mishandling of Valleywag is reason not to consolidate existing and viable brands into a larger property.

According to Todd’s story, Microsoft property 10 gets about 1.5 million unique visitors a month, which compares to 4.5 million for Channel 9. Can you guess how many blogs or Websites owners would all but kill to get 1.5 million unique visitors a month? I predict Microsoft will lose a third of these visitors almost immediately, preserving at most—and I’m being really conservative here—750,000 unique visitors a month. Some audience overlap, diminished 10 branding and visibility and dissatisfied readers/viewers will be major reasons for the losses. I’d bet a hundred bucks that the number drops to a quarter of a million within a year of the switchover. I really think only six months, but I only bet on sure things.

The problem: 10 and 9 aren’t just different brands. They largely appeal to different audiences and have gone about generating loyalty in very different ways. From the start, 10 embraced a much broader audience by:

  • Targeting consumer geeks, not developers
  • Presenting geek girls as the video principals
  • Streaming more polished, professional videos
  • Launching with better cross-platform video support
  • Having fun and making fun (some videos are just plain wacky)

The style of 10 videos—and Channel 8’s, for that matter—are strikingly different from Channel 9. Microsoft won’t carry that over easily. Something else: Windows 7 launches on October 22nd. Vista’s successor will appeal to a broad swath of customers. Microsoft should want to engage them all. That makes now poor timing for closing up sites, brands and content with audiences Microsoft should want to reach with Windows 7 evangelism.

In a way, Microsoft is also pulling the plug on Channel 9, which is getting a branding makeover as Revolution 9. What? Is this a Beatles album? “Number nine, number nine, number.” If Microsoft wants Beatles music, I say Eleanor Rigby—”Look at all the lonely people, where do they all come from?” They all come from channels 8 and 10 but not necessarily to 9.

Microsoft is promising better content, such as more of it being live, and better integration into social networking sites. Promises of a better, more social Channel 9—ah, Revolution 9—are encouraging. But I don’t see why Microsoft should have to kill off 10’s audience to make 9 better.

Photo Credit: Rick Wagner