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Microsoft Really Wants Consumers to Subscribe to More Stuff

By Evan Niu, CFA – Apr 1, 2020 at 10:00AM

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The software giant is strengthening the value proposition of its flagship consumer subscription and rebranding it "Microsoft 365."

In line with rumorsMicrosoft (MSFT -1.94%) just launched Microsoft 365 for consumers, a new subscription offering that is basically a rebranding of Office 365 consumer plans. The new Microsoft 365 plans will have the same price points as the existing Office 365 tiers -- $7 per month for a Personal plan or $10 per month for a Family plan -- so the software giant is really just hoping that by adding more features it can pack in more value in to grow the subscriber base.

Here's what investors need to know about Microsoft 365 for consumers.

More apps at the same price

The two most notable additions are a Family Safety app and repositioning Teams as a consumer chat app. Family Safety allows parents to physically keep track of where people are while adding digital safety features that log how much time is spent on devices. Think of it as a combination of Apple's Find My and Screen Time apps. Family Safety can send push notifications when family members arrive at or leave certain geo-fenced locations and will provide screen time reports.

Microsoft Teams app interface

Microsoft is repositioning Teams for consumers. Image source: Microsoft.

Microsoft's Slack (WORK) competitor, Teams, has been an enterprise product to date. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a surge in use of many communication-oriented apps, including Slack and Zoom Video Communications, and Teams is no different. On the enterprise side, Teams now boasts 44 million daily active users (DAUs), adding 12 million DAUs in a single week earlier this month due to the coronavirus outbreak driving more remote work.

The company wants people to use Teams as a way to connect and organize personal events like "a neighborhood gathering or your next book club meeting." Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has noted that Slack's free tier is popular for these types of personal use cases, and the company has little to no intention of trying to monetize that engagement since those efforts would likely be futile. Still, that usage helps expand awareness of the platform and those people "tend to introduce it to their companies." By bundling Teams into a paid consumer subscription, Microsoft may actually be able to better monetize those types of scenarios than Slack.

In addition to these two new apps, the core Office productivity suite that underpins it all is also getting new features like a beefed-up Editor feature in Word that uses artificial intelligence, a new Money functionality in Excel designed to help manage personal finances, and more.

Chart showing Office 365 consumer subscribers

Data source: SEC filings. Chart by author. Calendar quarters shown.

Microsoft has done a good job in growing Office 365 for consumers, quadrupling its subscriber base over the past five years. But growth has started to decelerate in recent quarters, and Microsoft 365 for consumers could reinvigorate those gains.

Teresa Kersten, an employee of LinkedIn, a Microsoft subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple, Microsoft, Slack Technologies, and Zoom Video Communications and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $85 calls on Microsoft, short January 2021 $115 calls on Microsoft, and short May 2020 $120 calls on Zoom Video Communications. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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