Has Yahoo Picked Marketing as Its Game?

Yahoo is cooking up new media model — one that involves creating little-to-no content. The company is harnessing its ability to build online audiences around brands, something it trumpeted at a media lunch held Tuesday at its Sunnyvale headquarters.

Throughout presentations from the Yahoo Media Group, a part of the new “Audience” division, the key word, uttered more times than we could count, was “promotions.” And so, in both overt and subtle fashion, Yahoo is a company transitioning itself into what’s essentially a marketing platform.

We’ve all wondered how Yahoo will emerge from the shadow of Google and its peanut butter demons. Many have long said Yahoo should define itself as a media company and get out of this technology game. Perhaps a compromise is for Yahoo to put its long-nurtured skills at attracting internet traffic as well as its favored status among brand advertisers to good use.

The most obvious example of Yahoo’s increasing bent towards marketing is its new “Brand Universe” initiative, announced in November. The company will tie together its disjointed properties — such as search, groups, Flickr, Answers, avatars — to lead back to pages about a certain pop culture topic — for instance, Nintendo’s Wii.

The discriminating factor here is popularity, not biz dev deal-making. Monetization is almost an afterthought; it will be varied on a case-by-case basis, and in some instances, the company that owns the brand will not even be involved, said Vince Broady, head of games and entertainment, over and over again to a bevy of incredulous reporters.

“Our whole purpose is to support their brand,” insisted Broady. “In some cases revenue sharing is not a huge priority.”

Yahoo says it will launch 100 such pages by year’s end; next up are the Sims, Halo, Lost, the Office, Transformers, and Harry Potter.

“Brand Universe” may be the most explicit projection of Yahoo’s increasing orientation towards marketing, but there are many others. A presentation about Yahoo TV and Yahoo Movies emphasized promoting pilot episodes and movie premieres; an overview of Yahoo Music highlighted contests, online-only tracks, and the ability of the site to measure buzz about a new single.

Throughout the presentations, original content efforts were clearly deemphasized. Scott Moore, head of news and information, repeatedly labeled Kevin Sites’ war-zone reporting on Yahoo News “good PR.” C’mon now people, that’s what you tell analysts, not reporters!

The marketing business may not be Google-big, but it’s something Yahoo can do well. So far, however, the talk about monetization is lackadaisical. That’s most likely a result of the recent Yahoo reorg, which leaves the financial stuff to an entirely different division. Now that could be a bit of a problem.


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