NBC, which is in the process of being sold to Comcast, and Microsoft have been conducting research about potential new names for the last few months. “Consensus in this case is a tall order,” Mr. Tillinghast wrote in one of the memos.
A board meeting that had been scheduled for the end of October to talk about the change was delayed until mid-November.
One of the new names under consideration is NBCNews.com — something that NBC would seem to favor — but the companies are testing entirely new names, as well, the memos show. The question seems to be: Should they go with a trusted and recognized name like NBCNews.com or try to build a fresh new brand?
In a statement Wednesday, Mr. Tillinghast said, “We have an enviable portfolio of news brands and routinely have strategic conversations about how to maximize them.”
(The Times and msnbc.com have an agreement to share some articles and video.)
The change is being contemplated because MSNBC and msnbc.com are on somewhat divergent paths.
They were founded together in 1996 by NBC and Microsoft, with the cable television channel based in New Jersey and the Web site based at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash. In 2005, NBC bought Microsoft’s stake in the cable channel, but the two parents remained together for the Web site, which is a crucial provider of content to Microsoft’s MSN.com portal.
Employees at msnbc.com work closely with employees of MSNBC and NBC News. But the Web site has its own reporters, editors, producers, photographers and advertising sales staff. And those employees have at times felt as if they were stuck in the shadow of the cable channel.
In recent years, MSNBC’s shift to the left, with hosts like Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, has further complicated the TV/Web relationship. This week, the channel introduced a splashy ad campaign and a new tagline, “Lean Forward” that reinforces the opinionated nature of the programming.
The cable channel has been looking for a way to distinguish itself online; the channel’s president, Phil Griffin, briefly discussed the acquisition of The Huffington Post earlier this year, but was rebuffed by its co-founders, as first reported by New York magazine this week.
Meanwhile, msnbc.com has remained what Mr. Tillinghast called in Tuesday’s memo an “impartial news product.”
He wrote that the “Lean Forward” announcement “only exacerbates the brand misalignment problem” that he had been trying to solve. He envisions a “brand family,” with the to-be-renamed Web site positioned at the head of the table, joined by two existing spinoff sites, one for NBC’s “Today” show and one devoted to breaking news alerts. But first msnbc.com’s family has to agree on a new name.