Levinsohn: Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL 'Have Similar Challenges'

Yahoo Exec Confirms Talk of Ad-Selling Alliance, but Says No Deal Imminent

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Yahoo Exec VP-Americas Ross Levinsohn said the idea behind a proposed ad-selling alliance between Yahoo, Microsoft and AOL is to lift the value of their ad inventory, but he declined to say if he believes the talks will result in a deal.

Ross Levinsohn
Ross Levinsohn

Speaking at a PaidContent conference in New York, Mr. Levinsohn confirmed he had attended a dinner meeting earlier this week with executives from Microsoft and AOL, along with reps from other publishers and agencies.

Yesterday, AllThingsD reported that executives from the three internet giants discussed a deal in which they would sell each other's "class 2" display advertising inventory rather than dump that inventory into ad networks. The partnership would also be an attempt to compete with Google and its growing presence in the display world.

While Mr. Levinsohn didn't confirm a formal deal between the three companies, he did say the three shared the philosophy that premium content creation is currently undervalued and that it's difficult for buyers to buy premium inventory in an easy way.

"We share similar challenges, and the opportunity for us is immense if we're able to increase the value of our own inventory," he said. If they can "do that directly with agencies, even better."

Asked if a possible partnership with AOL and Microsoft would fall under an "anyone but Google" philosophy, Mr. Levinsohn admitted: "Google doesn't need our help."

Though he joined the company less than a year ago, Mr. Levinsohn is considered one of the more likely internal candidates to replace former CEO Carol Bartz, who was ousted from her job last week. Asked if he considers himself a candidate, Mr. Levinsohn said the job he has is "the best job I've ever had," but said he would do what was best for Yahoo.

As for the timing of Ms. Bartz ouster, Mr. Levinsohn told the audience that exec changes of that sort don't really surprise him anymore. "The last time I was truly surprised was when my boss at HBO left." Mr. Levinsohn began his career at HBO in the late '80s.

Mr. Levinsohn declined to comment on Yahoo's interest or non-interest in online TV service Hulu except to say, "I think Hulu is a terrific asset."

He also said Yahoo needs to toughen up and regain some of its lost swagger. "Yahoo is about the most humble company I've worked for," he said. "We need a little bravado in our step."

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