NewFronts

Forget About VR: Yahoo Puts Video Focus on Live Streams and a Few Core Subjects

Despite 'Simplified' Strategy, Company Says It Produces More Video Than Ever

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Lisa Utzschneider, chief revenue officer at Yahoo.
Lisa Utzschneider, chief revenue officer at Yahoo. Credit: Yahoo

In the midst of an effort to sell the company after years of unrealized ambitions, Yahoo said Wednesday it is focusing its video efforts on live programming and four key subjects.

That's a departure from the presentation Yahoo gave ad buyers during last year's NewFronts, when it described 18 new original video series including a comedy for millennials called "The Pursuit" and a DJ competition show from Simon Cowell. Neither of those series became a reality, and since then the company has written down the value of its video business by $42 million and shut down its Yahoo Screen video portal amid falling traffic, reolcating its content to the company's digital magazines. It subsequently culled seven of those magazines, too, to emphasize just sports, finance, news and lifestyle.

Those are the same sectors in which Yahoo's video strategy will largely play out going forward, according to Lisa Utzschneider, chief revenue officer at Yahoo, told Ad Age ahead of a scaled-down, closed-to-the-press NewFronts pitch to buyers on Wednesday.

"Yahoo this year is simplifying its content strategy," Ms. Utzschneider said. "The key areas we are going to focus on is where we have a deep heritage, where millions of Yahoo users engage with things like daily fantasy during football season or watching Katie Couric's interviews."

"Right now, we are just focused on driving the business and delivering great experiences for our consumers," she added. "The thing that excites me about 2016 is our simplified strategy and the fact we are focused on fewer priorities, doubling down on video and resourcing against those priorities."

For Yahoo, that means no early adoption of virtual reality or 360-degree video, a subject advertisers were hard-pressed to avoid at the other NewFronts pitches so far this week. Instead, it wants to produce more live video content and original programming.

Yahoo Live, for example, will be a focal point moving forward for the company, Ms. Utzschneider said. "It's an important bet we're making," she said. "And the ability to stream that content, whether on the smartphone or on the desktop, is equally important."

Ms. Utzschneider said Yahoo's 2016 lineup will include more than 400 live sporting events for the MLB, NHL and PGA.

The company will also continue to live-stream corporate-related events, as it did for Berkshire Hathaway's annual shareholders meeting last week. Ms. Utzschneider says the stream reached more than 1.8 million global viewers in both English and Mandarin on Yahoo Finance. The game plan is to woo advertisers with the audiences who tune in to such events.

Ms. Utzschneider said video is what consumers are asking for. "We are seeing greater engagement for our content," she said. "In 2015, we produced 50% more video content. And there is more video consumption on Yahoo than ever before."

Yahoo's users are spending 85% more time with video on average, Ms. Utzschneider said.

Katie Couric, the company's global news anchor, racked up more than 397 million views for her streams in 2015, more than double the year before, according to the company. Yahoo's news segment hold the No. 1 spot in its category for total traffic, according to ComScore figures provided by the company.

When asked how a new board and the likely sale of the company played into shaping Yahoo's future plans, Ms. Utzschneider said, "Right now, we are just focused on driving the business and delivering great experiences for our consumers."

The struggling tech company posted gross revenue for the first quarter of 2016 at $1.09 billion, down from $1.23 billion a year ago.

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