Bartz: Tiger's Travails Are a Boon to Yahoo

At UBS Media Week: Yahoo Chief Says Golfer's Escapades Have Fueled Traffic to Portal's Myriad Channels

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Scandal-plagued golfer Tiger Woods has at least one very grateful new fan: Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz.

Carol Bartz
Carol Bartz
"God bless Tiger," she said to a group of analysts at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference in New York today. Consumers who seemingly can't get enough of his reported extramarital affairs have helped drive big traffic surges to Yahoo's front page, as well as its news, sports and gossip sites.

Beyond the initial accident and Mr. Woods' initial silence about it, the story has held the public's interest as a steady stream of new alleged mistresses have come forward. Ms. Bartz said that interest in the Tiger Woods story has even exceeded that of Michael Jackson, who died in June.

Asked if all the fuss surrounding Mr. Woods would help "make" Yahoo's quarter, Ms. Bartz replied, "Oh, absolutely. He already has."

Ms. Bartz told analysts the challenge ahead for the iconic web portal is not to compete with Google or Microsoft but to compete for the biggest pot of ad dollars, which is currently in broadcast and cable TV. Ad dollars have not flowed online as audiences have, she said, in part because the promise of online advertising was oversold to marketers at the outset "and did not deliver."

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That said, display-ad prices are picking up, along with the overall economy. "We are already seeing prices come back; it stands to reason, as more people come to market and want premium spaces that they will pay," she said, adding that "Yahoo is tracking with the economy."

Asked about the gap between online and offline ad rates and budgets, Ms. Bartz, who joined Yahoo in January, said online is destined to be a volume play. "We host on our site 10 billion ad impressions a day. So you can buy a Super Bowl on our home page every day -- that's the number of impressions that come through. Definitely, if you take an impression vs. [Rupert] Murdoch's [Wall Street] Journal or a TV commercial, it's very different. But the volume is very different."

In the wake of its search deal with Microsoft, Ms. Bartz stressed that Yahoo only outsourced the technology -- the actual crawling of the web -- to Microsoft, and that it would be adding a "uniquely Yahoo experience" to those results. She said Yahoo would fight to retain and build market share, but would not pay for expensive distribution deals to handle search on other web publishers' sites to do so. "They almost never pay off," she said.

Yahoo has a chance to retain or win new distribution because websites want to be associated with Yahoo properties, she argued, arguing that there is little material difference between results delivered by Microsoft, Google or Yahoo.

Google is the search leader, with 65% of the market, and Yahoo is second with 17%. Bing accounts for almost 10% and is growing. (Though Yahoo and Microsoft combined still have less than a 30% share, a figure that doesn't bode well as they plan to merge their search businesses -- with Bing powering Yahoo search -- over the next two years.)

Ms. Bartz also said Yahoo would start doing a bit more original content, particularly video of the low-budget kind in the vein of "Tech Ticker" and "Primetime in No Time." She said she could also see sourcing semi-professional, serialized narrative video in the vein of telenovelas in Brazil and Mexico.

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