Over the past couple of days there has been considerable discussion about Yahoo’s (YHOO) DNA. At the Ignition Conference in NYC, News Corp’s Digital Head Jon Miller said that Yahoo needed to get religion about something. He said they were “Caught between Silicon Valley and Media”. Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz argued the opposite last month at Web 2.0 in Stan Francisco. She said “Yahoo’s a content company, and great at it.”
And yet another plan was floated today that would have AOL merge their content business with Yahoo.
But Yahoo has been confused about who it is for most of the past decade. They have always been fascinated with media and they have spent huge amounts of money to try to become media, from the Broadcast.com acquisition (remember Yahoo Finance using kids in Hawaiian Shirts to cover Wall Street..THAT was an interesting idea) to the ill-fated Lloyd Braun era (They brought in an entertainment guru and told him he couldn’t really spend money or control the front page of the site) to the recent push on original content that has given Yahoo Sports, Finance and News a jolt.
They have, however, consistently left a huge gaping hole in the strategy. They have never really pulled the trigger and brought in the kind of content talent at the top of the company who have the power to truly make a difference. True power needs to be put in the hands of high ranking people who’s only job is to create great content and build a public persona for media companies. Whether they are network heads, news division heads, newspaper and magazine editors or just Content Gurus, they need unusual running room to make a difference…to build a media company. The problem is that if you bring that kind of talent in, you have to give them some rope to take chances and to spend money. Engineers are very skeptical of creative people. They just don’t make sense and it takes too long to know if they are right. And Engineers run Yahoo.
So Yahoo, like AOL, can create a lot of content by bringing in writers and, in many cases, talented journalists. But until they give a content czar a seat at the CEO’s table, and content guru’s equal billing with business heads of their various enterprises, they won’t be, at their heart, a content company.
I agree with Jon Miller that Ross Levinsohn is a great step forward, and a content guy at heart. What remains to be seen is how much power he is given to shake things up around the entire company.