Yahoo Signs One-Year Deal With Honda for 'Community'

Auto Brand Will Be the Sitcom's Presenting Sponsor

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Yahoo will premiere the new season of former NBC sitcom 'Community' on March 17.
Yahoo will premiere the new season of former NBC sitcom 'Community' on March 17.

Yahoo's pick-up of a failed TV sitcom has paid off.

Yahoo has a signed a deal with American Honda to sponsor the upcoming season of "Community" as part of a year-long upfront package that will have the auto brand's ads running across Yahoo's sites. Yahoo and Honda execs declined to discuss financial terms.

As part of the sponsorship package, Honda will be the presenting sponsor for the new season of "Community," which will premiere on March 17. That will entail pre-roll slots airing before each episode and product placements within episodes. For example, one episode is slated to feature the brand's CR-V model. Honda will also run video ads and banners across Yahoo Screen and other Yahoo-owned properties.

A Yahoo spokeswoman wouldn't say whether Honda will be the only brand to advertise against "Community."

The deal is a coup for Yahoo at a time when the company needs a business win. Last month Yahoo said it would spin off its stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba. For years that stake has served as a protective cover for Yahoo's declining core advertising business. Without it, Yahoo and CEO Marissa Mayer will be judged on the company's ability to win over advertisers, or its recent inability to do so.

For longer than a year, the company has struggled to get advertisers to buy its pricier so-called "premium ads." Instead of home-page takeovers and video sponsorships, many advertisers have redirected their budgets to Yahoo's cheaper so-called "native" stream ads that appear within its site's article feeds and are designed to look like the surrounding editorial entries. As a result, Yahoo has failed to grow its quarterly display advertising revenue year-over-year since the third quarter of 2012.

Yahoo, however, was able to win over Honda.

"We certainly challenged MediaVest, our [media] agency, to continue to come up with good alternatives to traditional TV formats as we see more and more of the world migrating to online or digital video formats," said American Honda's assistant VP-marketing Tom Peyton.

It helped that Yahoo was playing a ringer. "Community" had been a TV show airing on NBC for five seasons before the broadcast network cancelled it last May. Yahoo picked up a sixth season of the cult favorite and will premiere it on Yahoo Screen on March 17. "It's already a proven piece of successful content, so that was a big plus," Mr. Peyton said of the show.

The deal is also a coup for Yahoo's new sales boss Lisa Utzschneider. She stepped down as Amazon's sales chief last fall to join the portal as its senior VP-sales for the Americas. And the deal gives Yahoo and Ms. Utzschneider some momentum as they head into NewFronts season when major online video publishers angle to secure TV-style advertiser commitments tied to their upcoming programming slates.

"This deal is part of the one-year online video upfront, and so it is a great way to head into the NewFronts when we launch this March 17," Ms. Utzschneider said. She wouldn't talk about the significance of the deal in light of Yahoo's premium ad sales struggles.

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