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Yahoo: Audience First, Then Comes the Show

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Yahoo (s YHOO) has found religion when it comes to web shows, or so it tells The New York Times, and is now opting to find existing audiences and build shows around them, rather than the other way around.

The latest web series from the Internet portal is Spotlight to Nightlight, a show devoted to news and information about celebrity moms. Spotlight is hosted by former Miss USA Ali Landry and provides news and information topics such as wacky baby names and the high price of nannies ($120,000 a year! Stars, they’re just like us!). Moms have proven their online video worth in the past for web shows like In the Motherhood, which started on MSN and will launch on ABC this month as a new sitcom.

Spotlight fits in with other web shows that Yahoo has launched over the past year such as Primetime in No Time and Tech Ticker. It’s low-budget, non-fiction programming that features a host either recapping news or interviewing someone. What’s a little surprising is how much play the NYT is giving this tactic, as it’s the same as just about every other new media studio. Revision3, Deca and Next New Networks all build shows around existing targeted communities.

Although, Yahoo’s come-to-jeebus realization has a much better backstory. In a series of moves that played out like its own Hollywood tale, in the mid-2000s Yahoo had big media dreams and a high-profile hire in Lloyd Braun, a former ABC executive who was supposed to create big-time web series that would rival mainstream television. Those TV-lite attempts flopped, Braun resigned, and now Yahoo is returning to its roots.

Given the tumultuous year Yahoo has had, going back to basics is probably not such a bad idea, and it seems to be finding some success. Yahoo’s Primetime in No Time, which recaps last night’s TV shows broke 100 million views in just eight months and was generating 4 million streams per week last winter. Of course, with promotional help from one of the biggest sites on the Internet, that feat seems a little less impressive. But similar shows from Yahoo have done well. In November Yahoo Sports Minutes was getting 115,000 streams per day and Tech Ticker was averaging 420,000 streams a day.

Not all new shows are hits. Last year, Yahoo dropped its entertainment news show The 9 (which was picked up by Google(s GOOG) and renamed Poptub).

We’ll see if Spotlight shines brightly, but the low-cost, easy-to-produce strategy is a solid one for Yahoo as it tries to regain its stature.

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