The grandiose belief that big-event original content would forever transform the Internet and rocket it to a new level -- defined by Yahoo media and entertainment chief Lloyd Braun as "the 'I Love Lucy' moment" -- has come to a humbling end. In a watershed for the new-media industry, Yahoo is abandoning its strategy to create TV-style entertainment online and will instead focus on content generated by other media companies and the ultimate Net arbiter, the consumer.
That's left the former ABC Entertainment chairman with a lot of 'splainin' to do. Denying rumors that Yahoo CEO Terry S. Semel was unhappy with his performance and that he would leave the company, Mr. Braun offered a startling mea culpa to The New York Times. Admitting that the Internet "is not about creating one-off hits like in my old business," the executive known for a supersize ego declared, "I have to check my ego at the door ... and forget whatever expectations people had about me because of my former life."
Industry insiders weren't surprised. "The hope of an 'I Love Lucy' moment -- millions of people turning to their PCs every week at the same time -- was a dated strategy," said Jeff Lanctot, VP-general manager at interactive agency Avenue A/ Razorfish. "The hits online are instant messaging, e-mail and search-services that keep people coming back for."
Mr. Braun, who had promised to bring Yahoo dozens of TV-type sitcoms, reality shows and talk shows, delivered just a handful of original concepts. Most prominent were "Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone," dispatches from a correspondent in war-torn areas, and "Richard Bangs' Adventure Travel," multimedia visits to remote global locales. But neither delivered traffic figures over 1 million a month since launching last fall, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. And Mr. Sites' section failed to attract controversy-averse advertisers.
The revised strategy will focus less on the one-hit wonders and more on "driving long-term use [and] engaged users through a variety of types of content" including content from partners, generated from consumers, and some original content "on a limited basis," said Nissa Anklesaria, Yahoo spokesperson.
User-generated content will figure prominently, she said, like through the photo-sharing site Flickr, blog-building area Yahoo 360, Fantasy Football and voting on the Oscars.
Marketers spent $3.67 billion on Yahoo in 2005, a 38% increase over 2005 over 2004. Yahoo drew 105.6 million unique visitors in January 2006, according to Nielsen/NetRatings.
Analysts applauded Yahoo's move. "I always thought it was really nutty that just because [Yahoo] hired a former chief of programming for ABC that it could suddenly create the same type of programming that ABC, NBC and CBS and Fox does," said Todd Chanko, media analyst, Jupiter Media.
Ironically, the "I Love Lucy" moment that Mr. Braun predicted would usher in the new Web is actually a collection of small moments Yahoo already does better than anyone.
"Yahoo has always done extremely well as an aggregator and distributor of content-producing TV-style shows is separate from their core competency," said Ellen Siminoff, CEO of search agency Efficient Frontier, who ran Yahoo's business development and entertainment for seven years.