Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Yahoo wants to open it up

At a time like this, you have to give props to Jerry Yang just for showing up at the IAB conference. But as far as really addressing Microsoft’s attempt at an acquisition, well, of course, he didn’t. (To that extent, it seemed like he and Microsoft senior vp Brian McAndrews, who appeared later in the day, were reading from the same playbook, both using almost precisely the same wording to describe how they couldn’t really add anything to what’s already been out there. Maybe they're closer in world view than we thought.) After IAB CEO Randall Rothenberg gamely asked about the Microsoft deal, Yang, and Susan Decker, who was added to the agenda late (as Jerry’s bodyguard?) discussed what they saw as the Next Big Thing Yahoo should pursue having finally completed its search reinvention, Project Panama, last year. What they came up with isn’t exactly nothing you've heard before, but here you go: a sort of uber-advertising network which would let advertisers buy inventory across multiple sites beyond what is available today, and would allow publishers to package inventory (both their own and others) across a using a streamlined, standardized platform that would take a lot of friction out of the industry. But here’s the problem: from what I could tell from other conference attendees, no one in the industry seems to be buying what Yahoo’s selling. During a later panel moderated by Federated Media founder/"Search" author/super blogger John Battelle, the panelists were openly derisive of Yahoo’s idea. Here are some quotes:

From Peter Horan, CEO of IAC Media and Advertising, "Run your own business well before you start running someone else's business."

Lauren Weiner, senior vp, Meredith Digital Media was down on losing the insight and control of inventory has across its own sites: "We lose that advantage when we start representing other properties."

From Don Friedman, exec vp/CMO of Computer Associates (who spends 30 percent of his budget in digital): "It's not going to be as clean as they play it out to be."

Whether Yang and Decker caught wind of this, I don't know. After their talk was over, they went quickly backstage; one intrepid reporter I talked to, who tried to get back there, wasn't even allowed to breath the same air as Yang, things being what they are.

The Yahoo bashing continued during the many conversations I had over drinks later in the day. What I can’t get my head around is this: this is an industry in which new standards are always being invented, and, although it would be lovely if one platform could dominate (probably Google search comes as close as anything to a frictionless transaction market in online), it’s hard to see how this would happen. Sometimes I think it would be especially great for agencies who still have trouble figuring out how to make money off of this business. Making planning and buying not so time-consuming would help. However, if it truly is a great idea, Microsoft and Google would surely build their own, and the industry, instead of being streamlined, might end up right where it started. The upside is that even in its hobbled state, Yahoo still is much more of a powerhouse in display advertising than either Microsoft or Google, but in the current, down-on-Yahoo environment it still doesn’t necessarily seem positioned to rewrite the rules of the marketplace.

1 comment:

Peter said...

This is Peter Horan. I will confess to being skeptical however, if it seemed that I was being "derisive" then I apologize to Jerry and Sue.

The wrapper around the quote that you used, was that in my experience with turnarounds it makes the most sense to identify the core drivers of your business and make sure that they are working well before launching bold new intitiatives that will demand time and investment.