Yahoo comeback rests on tech over media
By Nadia Damouni and Alexei Oreskovic, Reuters
October 23, 2012, 12:01 am TWN
SAN FRANCISCO--Marissa Mayer, who earned a reputation for decisive action and intensity during her 13-year stint at Google Inc., has spent her first months as Yahoo Inc CEO quietly moving the Internet pioneer back to its roots in technology.
Long torn between whether it should focus on media content or on tools and technologies, Yahoo under Mayer is being positioned firmly in the latter camp, according to sources inside and outside the company.
Her hires, acquisition musings, and other early moves hint at an ambitious, technology-driven comeback plan designed to revitalize aging but well-trafficked properties such as Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports.
Yahoo has been criticized for allowing these sites to stagnate — they look very much like they did five years ago, and do not have many bells and whistles to encourage users to spend more time on them.
Mayer, 37, wants to make Yahoo's properties much more interactive, on PCs and on mobile devices, using social media tools to personalize the user experience and new technology to boost advertising sales. Her well-known focus on user design is expected to result in a simpler, less-cluttered email and home page, one source said.
Yahoo declined to comment for this article. Mayer, who gave birth to her first child weeks ago, will unveil details of her comeback plan when Yahoo reports quarterly results on Monday.
Mayer's focus on technology in many ways reverses a course set by her predecessors, who had concentrated on media content deals, such as those that gave prime billing to Walt Disney Co.'s ABC News or CNBC, or to bring an original program starring actor Tom Hanks to its website.
The new strategy is not without risks: it positions Yahoo squarely against Facebook Inc. and Google. It also risks alienating a large, media-focused contingent that is already weakened by the departure of Ross Levinsohn, who had championed a media-centric approach when he was interim CEO before Mayer's arrival in July.
Many industry insiders believe Mayer is Yahoo's final hope for reversing a years-long decline from the pinnacle it once attained as the leading gateway to the Internet. Four of her predecessors have tried in vain to right the ship — Yahoo's market value of US$19 billion, is less than half its US$44 billion value in 2005.
Mayer, who earned a masters degree in computer science from Stanford University specializing in artificial intelligence, has moved quickly on the personnel front, shelling out rich pay packages to attract ex-colleagues from Google and elsewhere.