MSN Hits 5 Million Mark

The Microsoft Network (MSN) this week clawed its way to number two in the highly competitive ranks of U.S. ISPs.

Previous numbers had MSN ranked in the fifth place spot behind EarthLink, NetZero and Juno Online.

MSN attributed it’s success to big-name partners and the brand awareness only good marketing can bring.

It’s a sign of Microsoft Corp.’s commitment to bring its software dominance to the Internet, a change in climate forseen by Bill Gates years ago and culminating in his decision to broaden MSN’s scope and spend $200 million on a .Net campaign for Web developers.

MSN, which was launched in 1996 (making it old-school in Internet years), has seen a meteoric rise in its fortunes but still lags far behind AOL Time Warner, which boasts more than three times the subscribers at 17.5 million.

Sarah Lefko, MSN product manager, said alliances with big-name companies like Radio Shack and Best Buy has brought the company consumers and increased its brand recognition.

“Overall, we’ve been doing a lot of things to drive awareness of MSN,” Lefko said. “People are taking note of what we’re doing and consumers are becoming aware of what MSN is and what it can do for them. We’ve had some great growth the past year because of it.”

Included in the MSN subscriber count are the 7,000 digital subscriber line users who had signed on with the ISP’s high-speed option. Those customers were left stranded after NorthPoint Communications shut down its network two weeks ago.

Lefko said MSN officials are still looking to get those members back online but wouldn’t give details, saying only that talks continue to bring DSL back to MSN. Users have free dial up accounts until the DSL service returns.

“We will continue to look to provide a faithful relationship with consumers for DSL,” Lefko said.

The ISP has taken great pains to increase its reach nationwide, taking lessons from AOL and incorporating into their own product line.

That’s culminated in MSN Explorer, which bundles its Hotmail email service, Instant Messaging (IM), a search engine and MoneyCentral. The product is also available for wireless Internet mobile phone users.

The products have taken off in recent times, and while subscriber counts are not nearly enough to make AOL officials lose sleep yet, it’s proven MSN is taking big steps to close the gap between the two.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the IM arena. MSN Messenger Service, a late entry to the field, outstripped AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) for the first time recently, with 230 million unique users.

Hoping to migrate the people using the popular Explorer to its Internet services, MSN plans to add features making it easier for them to sign up as subscribers. That includes letting Explorer users keep their email address, offering 10MB of storage and offline email, and automatic spell-checking.

The whole is designed to bring a seamless Internet experience for MSN users, said Yusuf Mehdi, MSN vice president.

“With more than five million customers using MSN Internet Access in the U.S., it is clearer than ever that MSN is the choice for anyone desiring a richer and more complete Internet experience,” Mehdi said. “Seamless integration with MSN Explorer gives our Internet access subscribers the best of MSN content and services together with the power of the Web.”

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