Yahoo Aims for Millennials With 18 New Shows, Says CEO Marissa Mayer

Portal Will Premiere 18 New Shows, Including Live Newscasts and a Simon Cowell Series

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Marissa Mayer, Yahoo
Marissa Mayer, Yahoo Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Yahoo is throwing the kitchen sink at NewFronts advertisers looking to spend more money on digital video but unsure if that money will buy them the same number of eyeballs they would have received on TV.

At its NewFront presentation in New York on Monday, Yahoo announced plans to premiere 18 new digital video programs that span TV-style shows and shorter evergreen series. The portal is also expanding its live programming with an expansion of its existing concert series, a new reality show from Simon Cowell and a new live news program anchored by Yahoo's global news anchor Katie Couric.

A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to say when the new shows will premiere or whether all of them are expected to premiere this year.

Yahoo may be throwing at advertisers a lot of different shows across various categories and formats, but there's one common thread throughout all the new programs that could return Yahoo to being a must-buy for advertisers.

"This lineup is really appealing, we think, to the millennials. And of course that's what a lot of the media buyers are looking for… These are all items that are really focused on that demographic, and we know that's a really attractive demographic to advertisers that can do a really solid job of making us that must-buy," said Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer in an interview ahead of the company's NewFronts presentation.

Yahoo's lineup falls under three categories: original scripted shows, series from its digital magazines and live programs.

After announcing its first two long-form, scripted series at last year's NewFronts and acquiring "Community" from NBC soon after, this year Yahoo is only announcing one new long-form series, a comedy called "The Pursuit" that aims to be "Friends" updated for the digital age.

The announcement of only one long-form original series would seem to confirm a recent Wall Street Journal report that Yahoo has dialed back its interest in long-form originals. Ms. Mayer addressed that perception.

"We certainly are interested in original and exclusive content. That said, we are interested in scripted video but only when it really plays to our audience. So we feel that 'The Pursuit' is a great comedy for millennials, but a lot of the content we're going deep on is more news-oriented and, even if they're originals, they're really deeply aligned with some of the key verticals we've been investing in for years," Ms. Mayer said.

Yahoo is making a new type of investment in its 13 so-called "digital magazines" like Yahoo Food and Yahoo Style. Of the 18 new series Yahoo announced on Monday, 14 will run on these digital magazines, including separate programs starring supermodel Naomi Campbell and "Furious 7" star Michelle Rodriguez. That's part of Yahoo's strategy this year to turn these properties into their own video networks, though Ms. Mayer said they'll still be referred to as digital magazines.

Yahoo is also doubling down on its investment in live programming. After launching Yahoo Live last year with a daily live concert series with Live Nation, Yahoo is extending that deal to include music festivals and has also teamed up with iHeartMedia for another concert series.

Additionally Yahoo will try out new types of live programming. "Ultimate DJ," a reality competition show about electronic dance music (EDM) deejays produced by Simon Cowell, will air live and incorporate Tumblr to appeal to the Yahoo-owned social network's "hyperactive" audience that loves EDM, Ms. Mayer said. "Superfan Live" is Yahoo's spin on the live after-shows that air on TV sometimes following a primetime series' latest episode. And "Everybody's Business" will be a weekly series on Yahoo Finance. Yahoo will also start airing live newscasts through "Yahoo News Live" that will air unscheduled as news breaks.

"We've now tried to make Yahoo News really mean to users that it's trusted, authoritative, that if you read it here, it's fact. And we're going to keep that going. But the fact that we have 'Yahoo News Live' means we can break it at the moment we're sure that we're right, as opposed to waiting for a daily broadcast as you might have to do on television," Ms. Mayer said.

Asked whether Yahoo plans to draw attention to these unscheduled live newscasts by pinning them atop the Yahoo home page, Ms. Mayer said "there are a number of different ways we can distribute."

Yahoo plans to sell its new shows to advertisers in three different way, according to Yahoo's senior VP of advertising sales for the Americas Lisa Utzschneider. Advertisers will be able to buy a show sponsorship to incorporate their brands into a series, as Honda recently did with Yahoo's "Community." They can also buy one of 18 category-specific channels to run pre-roll ads against the videos in those channels. Or they can choose to buy Yahoo's audience instead of its content by running ads aimed at viewers who fit various audience categories, such as demographics.

Yahoo is also going to work with Millward Brown Digital to measure in real time what kind of impact advertisers' campaigns have on their brands, such as whether a campaign may have changed a viewer's opinion of a brand or lead the viewer to buy the brand's product.

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