Updated: As generalist news sites face a tougher time crafting a distinct identity, and content sharing partnerships tend to be lopsided in favor of one site or another, rending the grand promises of improved news delivery and ad sales advantages largely null and void. Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) and ABC (NYSE: DIS) News held a press conference earlier designed to address those challenges, though the news was greeted with some skepticism, considering that the two had first teamed up 11 years ago.
Aside from mapping out each other’s turf, the new effort, which outlines the shared production and distribution of online news and video series, the entities face several hurdles. For one thing, web users increasingly get their news from niche sites on the web. Both are struggling with their growth plans, though each attracts millions of viewers and users daily. As such, executives argue proves that what they have to offer is meaningful to consumers and advertisers. Primarily, observers questioned what Yahoo and ABC News have achieved from past content partnerships and what’s so different about the integration plans this time?
In particular, Merrill Brown, a former editor-in-chief of MSNBC.com and a former consultant for ABC, told the NYT’s Brian Stelter that Yahoo has historically not “delivered for news partners” to the extent promised in grand pronouncements like the one made on Monday.
“The stakes are significant and they need to effectively push users to ABC,” he said. “This deal seems to recognize that, at least at the press release level.”
In the meantime, it’s worth wondering what the supposed close tie-up of ABC News content with Yahoo News will mean to the portal’s current roster of less-integrated content from partners like Reuters (NYSE: TRI). While today’s presentation was squarely focused on the present, there were more than several hints that this represented a new direction that Yahoo would apply to future partnerships across its other channels.
In large sense, this deal recognizes that while Yahoo and ABC News may draw millions of eyeballs both on their own and together, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they have “engaged” those audiences, to use the favorite buzzword of media and advertising companies. For the most part, when one thinks of dynamic news on the web, the “old media” is well represented by the likes of the NYTimes.com (NYSE: NYT) or relative upstarts like TPM. These brands have forged and maintained a distinct identity that, for better or worse, resonates with their users. It’s hard to say that Yahoo News or ABC Digital can claim that same kind of affinity on the web, despite some impressive numbers and features.
Secondly, although AOL (NYSE: AOL) and Huffington Post continue to take a beating in the tech press for what’s considered an ill-conceived fit of content properties — especially after the Mike Arrington/Techcrunch debacle, Yahoo is under tremendous pressure to match the integration, which has nevertheless given AOL much more scale than it previously had, at least for the time being. The pressure on Yahoo has intensified in the weeks following the ouster of Carol Bartz as CEO, after the board lost confidence that she would be able to quickly address the company’s poor display performance.
As for ABC News, there too, it has millions of viewers watching its morning and nightly newscasts as well as its Sunday morning talk shows. But in a world where news is delivered 24-7 online and on cable, those millions of broadcast viewers are diminishing and they’re aging. The hope, in part, is by entwining its editorial voice and image with Yahoo, it can somehow gain new relevancy with younger consumers who have never watched a 6:30 newscast. The big test for both will come with the election season, with their respective strengths and weaknesses as news gatherers in sharp relief.
Original post: The announcement, held on the second floor of ABC News’ studio in Times Square, also kicked off Advertising Week in New York City. Yahoo also is expected to launch its digital newsstand.
Executives afterward were at pains to stress that this deal is different than the syndication agreement the two signed 11 years ago (via @pkafka). The announcement is also being positioned as on that builds on ad hoc partnerships that the two have done over the years, most recently with coverage of Royal Wedding.
The newest version partnership launches today with the debut of GoodMorningAmerica.com on Yahoo and three new, “online-first” video series with ABC News’ anchors and correspondents. Newsmakers, an original interview series, kicks off today with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos interviewing President Obama live at the White House at 2:35 p.m. ET. The entire interview will stream live on both Yahoo.com and ABCNews.com. “The first guy who wants to reach the audience — potentially 100 million people — is the president,” said Ben Sherwood, the head of ABC News. “‘Nuff said.”
ABC News and Yahoo News editorial teams will work together to develop additional series. Journalists from both will collaborate on branded content that will appear on both the Yahoo News and ABC News sites. Teams will co-produce coverage for major news events and will have integrated bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Yahoo editorial staff and content will appear on air.
“The future of news and information is up for grabs,” said Sherwood. “We provide 25 percent of Yahoo’s news videos already. This is not just another content partnership. And we see this as much of a mobile deal as well as PC deal. Having that stretch across all platforms is why we believe in this so strongly.”
“The value created around premium content is not something that can be replicated,” said Yahoo Americas head Ross Levinsohn. “Ben and his team share our values. The odds of success are tremendous, including creating new voices for online. The scale that we have together, gives us 25 million a day. And that doesn’t exist in another platform.”
ABC News has gone through some drastic changes in the past year in ways that suggested that the days of dominant, expensive broadcast TV operations had seen their best days. The news division made deep staff cuts in 2010 that led to the departure of some of its top digital execs, including ABC News digital head Paul Slavin and digital VP Jon Dube.
There have been some notable hires on the interactive side, as well, such as the April addition of AOL (NYSE: AOL) vet Joe Ruffolo as the SVP of ABC News Digital.
It’s not clear whether one brand will dominate the Yahoo/ABC News collaboration. For example, ABC News will still have distinct mobile and PC web destinations. At the start at least, all the news will be co-branded and co-produced. There are no plans to offer anything other than free, ad-supported content, Levinsohn said. As for whether the model of this deal will be used for Yahoo’s other verticals, such as its entertainment/gossip channel OMG, Levinsohn said it remains to be seen.
Both Sherwood and Levinsohn brushed aside a question about what role former CEO Carol Bartz had in creating this deeper tie-up, suggesting that the talks began as a discussion between two executives with a shared history. “We began talking about three days after Ben was hired in December,” Levinsohn said.