The last time Yahoo threw an upfront -- or NewFront, as they're called when digital companies imitate TV's annual pitches to ad buyers -- it was a media company, or at least aspired to be. It was run by media exec Ross Levinsohn and threw a full-fledged, TV-style spectacle for advertisers, promoting shows like "Burning Love" and Anthony Zuiker's "Cybergeddon."
Then Google exec Marissa Mayer was installed as CEO and media faded from Yahoo's story altogether. Ms. Mayer's Yahoo wasn't about content; it was about tools: a weather app, a re-launched Flickr and Mail, a redesigned home page and, of course, "your daily habits." In the new Yahoo narrative, media barely had a speaking role.
Yahoo tried to change that on Monday with a new slate of six new shows focused on comedy and sex plus partnerships with WWE and Conde Nast. The message? "Guys, we're still a media company."
Among the new shows: "Tiny Commando," a comedy series with "The Hangover" star Ed Helms; "We Need Help," a comedy produced by Rachael Harris and Cheryl Hines (who play themselves); and "Losing Your Virginity with John Stamos," co-produced by Morgan Spurlock, which will interview celebrities about the first time they had sex. Those and others join two returning series from last year to form something that, if you squint hard, looks a little like a TV schedule for next fall.
Yahoo also touted its ability to distribute content produced elsewhere. Case in point: ABC News president Ben Sherwood gave the Yahoo partnership some credit with helping "Good Morning America" make life difficult for the Today Show on TV. He said that reaching non-viewers through Yahoo was the strategy from the outset. "If just 1% of Yahoo's audience samples 'GMA,' we win," he said.
The NewFront pitch comes on the heels, too, of Yahoo's deal to license 38 years of "Saturday Night Live" clips.
In an interview during the show, COO Henrique De Castro reiterated the importance of content to Yahoo's strategy. "We are the only publisher at scale on the web," he said, arguing that every other platform that comes close is based on user-generated content. The story to advertisers is "content at scale on the web, delivered in a personalized way," as Mr. De Castro put it.
That content won't necessarily look like TV, just as cable did not precisely resemble broadcast at the outset. Yahoo has become a major acquirer of originals, he said, but it will also rely heavily on partners such as ABC News and NBC Sports, and aggregation as well.
"If you look at the value of media, content without a delivery mechanism doesn't have any value," he said. "So you have to have the right content pared with the right delivery mechanism."
That and some new ad formats are Yahoo's content story, and from the looks of the line that snaked down 44th to get into Best Buy Theater, there are still some advertisers game to hear it.