Kara Swisher

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Microsoft Quietly Shuts Down MSN TV, Once Known as WebTV


Microsoft said that its MSN TV service will be closing down at the end of September, in a post on its Web site and in an email to users.

MSN TV, of course, was born of WebTV, which was thought up by well-known entrepreneur Steve Perlman. The software giant bought it at the height of the Web 1.0 boom in mid-1997, paying $425 million.

The service, which included a dedicated hardware device attached to a television, went through a number of iterations over the years, including being rebranded as MSN TV in 2001. Some of its technology went into the Xbox, but — in general — its recent history was one of dwindling users.

Microsoft’s TV unit also went on to do Mediaroom, software for set-top boxes used by AT&T for U-verse. That business is in the process of being sold to Ericsson (and probably explains the timing of this shut down).

There are still a number of devices that hook to TVs and deliver content, including Roku and Apple TV. Apple’s Tim Cook said in an interview at the recent D: All Things Digital conference that the interactive TV arena, “continues to be an area of great interest to us.”

“When you look at the TV experience, it’s not an experience that I think very many people love,” Cook said. “It’s not one that has been brought up to date for this decade. It’s still an experience much like 10 years ago or 20 years ago.”

But the experience was definitely over at MSN TV.

Said Microsoft:

“WebTV (later called MSN TV) started in 1996 with the goal to bring new people ‘online’ and to give those already online an easy, hassle-free means of accessing the internet from the comfort of their homes. Later, MSN TV 2 was released with vastly greater power and features. Since then, the web has continued to evolve at a breathtaking pace, and there are many new ways to access the internet. Accordingly, we have made the difficult decision to end the MSN TV service on September 30th, 2013. We are working with our customers to ensure the transition is as seamless as possible.”

And here’s an email sent to existing subscribers:

Dear MSN TV Subscriber,

For the past decade, we have been excited to build products that provided our customers with easy access to the Internet on TV. Unfortunately, all good things must eventually come to an end. Today we are announcing that we will be closing the MSN TV service. The last day of the MSN TV service will be September 30, 2013. We want this transition to be as smooth as possible for you. This letter explains what you need to do before the service ends if you want to have access to your email, favorites, Scrapbook photos, Page Builder pages, and any other data.

Before the MSN TV service ends, you need to make sure that all the users on your account have upgraded to Outlook.com (formerly called Hotmail), saved any favorites and Scrapbook photos to SkyDrive, and archived any published Page Builder web pages that you wish to save. We have created an MSN TV Closure FAQ that provides detailed information on how to do all of these. Please read it at http://www.msntv.com/msntv/ClosureFAQ.asp.

After you have upgraded to Outlook.com, your MSN TV email address, along with your existing email, will continue to be available for you to use. Outlook.com offers many advantages, such as accessing your email from a computer or smartphone that has a connection to the Internet. From a computer or smartphone, you can accessOutlook.com by visiting http://www.outlook.com.

If you would like access to your favorites and Scrapbook photos after the MSN TV service ends, you will need to copy them to SkyDrive before the service ends. SkyDrive provides storage in the cloud, so you can easily access and store your favorites and photos all in one place and sync with other devices. You can also share your photos on SkyDrive with family and friends. You can learn more about SkyDrive at http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/skydrive/overview from a computer or smartphone.

To ease the transition and help ensure you maintain Internet access, we will be providing some special offers for both the MSN Dial-up and Premium services. You will need a computer, Microsoft account, and active MSN TV subscription. Visit http://get.msn.com/msntv.aspx to view and sign up for one of these offers.

Many of you already have a computer for accessing the Internet. For those of you who do not, we recommend visiting the Microsoft Store for a wide variety of device options. Go to http://www.microsoftstore.com.

We want to sincerely thank you for your continued support of the MSN TV service over the years. We have enjoyed bringing this technology to such loyal customers.

If you have any questions that are not answered in the MSN TV Closure FAQ, you can contact Customer Support at 800-469-3288 between 6 am – 8 pm PST. Again, we want to thank you for your support and commitment to Microsoft products.

The MSN TV Team

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik