Microsoft is pulling the plug on MSN TV, a service formerly known as WebTV, as Apple ramps up its set-top box efforts.
The pioneering service, one of the first to offer Internet access via television sets, will shut down September 30, Microsoft revealed in an e-mail to subscribers and in an FAQ posted to its Web site. WebTV, which was founded by Web entrepreneur Steve Perlman in 1996, was acquired by Microsoft for $425 million in 1997.
WebTV offered television-based e-mail and Web browsing via wireless keyboards but struggled to gain traction with consumers. Microsoft rebranded the service as MSN TV in 2001 to accelerate integration with products such as MSN Messenger and MSN Hotmail.
The software giant even offered the interactive service for free to new MSN online service, but it has largely taken a backseat to the company's focus on the Xbox game console, which also offers Internet access.
Microsoft cited the myriad ways people can now access the Internet as a contributing factor to the service's demise:
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.
Microsoft's exit comes as Apple puts more emphasis on the set-top box sector and as Microsoft itself boosts Xbox TV programming with the upcoming Xbox One.
Apple is reportedly near a deal with Time Warner Cable that would bring new a significant influx of new channels to the computer maker's set-top box, Apple TV, for subscribers of the cable television service. Last month, Apple TV lassoed Time Warner Inc.'s HBO GO and Disney's WatchESPN apps.