Degree: Bachelor of science degree and masters in international studies from the University of Washington; studied Chinese at the University of Hong Kong
Biggest news story of 2001: “So far it has to be the [Timothy] McVeigh execution. It was our fifth-biggest [traffic] day ever.”
Stress reliever: Karate (He has a black belt, and is working toward one in aikido.)
On July 15, MSNBC.com marked its fifth anniversary. When the Internet news site was launched as a partnership between software giant Microsoft and broadcaster NBC in 1996, there was skepticism about the overall viability of a converged television/online news service, as well as the duos ability to catch up to CNN. Today, MSNBC.com is a ratings hit, consistently ranked as the No. 1 news site, according to Jupiter Media Metrix. It has yet to become a financial hit, however. CEO John Nicol spoke with Section B Editor Mel Duvall.
How do you view your role at MSNBC.com?
I am responsible for all aspects of this business — from making sure we make a profit, to ensuring that we have the right people, the right focus, and that were building the right products for the new technologies coming down the road. I also head up other businesses for Microsoft, including WebTV [Networks, newly named MSNTV]. In that role, Im responsible for managing the relationship of the joint venture between Microsoft and NBC.
You mentioned making a profit. What is the financial state of MSNBC.com?
We dont give out exact numbers. We are seeing the same downturn in advertising as everyone else — its a tough market these days. I think we do a little bit better than the competition because we are No. 1. My expectation is that the market will turn around before too long and quite possibly well get that big Christmas bump and build on that.
Do you have a vice president of e-business?
Were all about e-business, so its not broken out specifically. I have the final say on spending decisions [related to technology purchases], but there are a lot of good people here who provide input on decisions.
Where have you been most successful?
Weve been extremely successful at making MSNBC the most customizable site on the Internet [letting users view the news according to their preferences]. In the next generation of that concept, instead of restructuring our site based on what people tell us — what sports they like or what stocks they follow — we have to be much better at understanding who our customers are, what devices they have, and be more automatic about restructuring information to fit their needs.
Where could you have done better?
I think we could have been more aggressive in international [news coverage] than we have. Its a function of cost and focus. You can do anything in e-business . . . but the most difficult challenge is having a focus, and weve been very focused on having the best product in the U.S.
When will streaming news hit the big time?
I believe its bigger today than most people believe. Broadband is a big sector of our audience — its about 50 percent when you include the at-work audience. Gradually were migrating more and more of our features and content to that high-speed option.