Microsoft, News Corp. Rumored to Be in Talks to Delist from Google

Microsoft and Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. are rumored to be in talks over an agreement that would see News Corp.'s Websites delisted from Google search in exchange for payment by Microsoft. While Microsoft has declined to comment on the rumors, the Financial Times has cited an anonymous source as saying the talks are in early stages. Throughout 2009, Microsoft has been securing deals with Yahoo and other companies as part of a broad strategy aiming to eat into Google's market share.

Microsoft has reportedly approached Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. about delisting its Websites from Google in exchange for cash, according to an anonymous source speaking to the Financial Times. New Corp. apparently initiated the rumored discussions.

Murdoch has publicly suggested in recent weeks that he would make New Corp.'s paid content invisible to Google, which would theoretically be possible by adding a few code snippets to its sites' Robot.text files. The potential downside, of course, is that going dark on Google and other search engines would rob it of a massive number of online page views.

Reached by eWEEK for comment, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."

But the Financial Times, as part of a rumor round-up published on Nov. 22, quoted a Web publisher who had apparently been approached by Microsoft about deindexing from Google in exchange for cash.

"This is all about Microsoft hurting Google's margins," that Web publisher told the newspaper, which also alluded to a "person familiar with the situation" as the source of the rumored Microsoft-News Corp. talks.

Microsoft has initiated a number of deals over the course of 2009 in an attempt to eat into Google's search engine market share, the most notable of which is its 10-year search and advertising agreement with Yahoo. Under the terms of that partnership, Bing will power search on Yahoo's sites while Yahoo takes over both companies' worldwide search-advertising sales.

That agreement is still under evaluation by the Department of Justice, but both companies anticipate that it will be approved with relatively few hurdles. The agreement is also currently being evaluated by the European Union.

"We don't expect any[thing] different than we did in July," Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz told an audience of reporters during a Sept. 22 event at NASDAQ MarketSite in Times Square. "We still expect it to close in early 2010."

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested during a trip to Tokyo in early November that the Yahoo partnership could expand beyond the United States. "We will have to wait and see if we can get approval and consummate that partnership inside the U.S. first," he said.

The Yahoo and Microsoft deal could potentially increase Bing's share of the U.S. search engine market to close to 30 percent, if Yahoo's current share of the market (roughly 19 percent) is ported over to Microsoft's with no attrition. That would pose a more substantial challenge to Google, which occupies between 65 and 70 percent of the market, depending on which analyst you follow.

In an effort to make Bing a more robust competitor to Google, Microsoft has incorporated new functionality into its search engine. In addition to an expanded video page and more granular weather and news options, Bing will soon begin offering search results from Wolfram Alpha, a "computational engine" that offers a definitive answer-often numerical-in response to a search query. Developed by Stephen Wolfram, founder and CEO of Wolfram Research and creator of Mathematica, Wolfram Alpha offers not only answers to equations and algorithms, but also more consumer-oriented information such as nutritional data.

One of Microsoft's more recent deals with News Corp., which would have seen Windows 7 promoted on the Fox TV show "Family Guy," went south after show-runner Seth MacFarlane decided to pack the Microsoft-sponsored episode with jokes involving deaf people, the Holocaust, feminine hygiene and incest. However, Microsoft and Fox are reportedly continuing a 12-week college tour to promote the operating system, which was released on Oct. 22.