Why Marissa Mayer 'Bought' Katie Couric For Yahoo

by , Dec 9, 2013, 9:06 AM
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Katie Couric, now 56, represents her generation of women more than ever. A journalist, wife and mother, she has worn more hats than most men her age, but no more than the average midlife working woman, whether she be a business leader, civic leader, midlife entrepreneur, young widow heading back to work, and/or active empty-nester. As someone who has filled all five of these roles, Couric is the poster child for women over 45.

I thought about these facts last month when Yahoo announced that it had entered into a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract making Couric its “global anchor.”  While many have questioned this decision, and its price, I saw in it some of the focus that Mayer has brought to Yahoo since joining the company as CEO in mid-2012.

Early on in her tenure, Mayer declared that Yahoo’s three key challenges were “increasing usage, growing our international presence and appealing to a broader demographic of users — roughly in that order of priority.”

Every big decision Mayer has made since that announcement has fit within that sharp focus. She bought Tumblr for $1.1 billion, securing a new relationship with hip techies who may be rapidly abandoning Facebook. She has made a host of smaller acquisitions of start-ups built to serve mobile users. With a 24% stake retained in China’s e-commerce leader Alibaba, she retains a very profitable platform in that all-important market.  

Think of Couric as another acquisition, and one devoted to serving one of Yahoo’s core markets: the Baby Boomers for whom Yahoo is both an in-box and a homepage.  

Most media managers chase the audience they don’t have (Millennials) while ignoring the one they’ve got (Boomers), but Mayer is illustrating a different interest in having it both ways, not just tolerating, but seeking to serve and engage the Boomers who may generate the bulk of her profits for the foreseeable future.

We see Yahoo’s dependence on midlife subscribers every day. 

Yahoo has long been the #1 webmail service used by our 100,000+ subscribers.  Almost 20% of them have Yahoo email addresses. But that number is down from a few years ago, and Gmail has gained Boomer subscribers quickly over the same period. Most of Gmail’s market share has come at AOL’s expense—but Yahoo could be next.  

Betting on Boomers also ties into Mayer’s overall bet on mobile. The Boomers we gather are going mobile almost as rapidly as their children: 28% of our visitors now access us via mobile devices, and another 19% by tablets. In order to retain and serve the 50-somethings who help keep its company afloat, Yahoo will have to be more relevant on mobile while finding ways to compete with Gmail as well.  

Whether Couric represents the best way to accomplish these goals is a separate question. Couric has been a topic of evergreen interest to our members for many years. A recent email newsletter subject line that featured her (“The real reason Katie Couric is still single”) captured one of the highest open rates we’ve seen in years (and more than 150 comments). 

We may look back and say that Couric was a wise investment in retaining Yahoo’s Boomer base.

Like AOL before it, Yahoo cannot continue to generate profits without the tens of millions of Americans aged 45-65 who find it the most convenient and relevant place to start their day on the internet. If Yahoo turned its backs on these users—a disproportionate of them women—it could begin losing page views, users, and advertisers rapidly. Mayer has shown a new kind of bravery in recognizing the value of these current members and regular visitors. Maybe because she’s a woman only 6½ years away from turning 45 herself!

4 comments on "Why Marissa Mayer 'Bought' Katie Couric For Yahoo".

  1. Walter Graff from Bluesky Media
    commented on: December 9, 2013 at 9:15 a.m.
    You are correct Stephen but Katie Couric will not be able to garner much from the baby boomers. She appeals to a limited demographic and her appeal now and her success has been for TV not for web. It's a very hard crossover unless you have TV already and are relevant to that genre and even then you may not have a great web interest. As of now she is old-school has-been. That means selling her will require a new form of relevance for her and that will be very hard to find.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: December 9, 2013 at 10:37 a.m.
    Bought is more telling of a phrase than anything. Did she buy a present for herself adding to her personal circles of prestige in case she is not at Yahoo forever ?
  3. Ruth ann Barrett from EarthSayers.tv
    commented on: December 9, 2013 at 12:46 p.m.
    Ms. Couric has been carefully positioning herself to be a boomer spokesperson since turning 48 then on the cover of the November/December issue of AARP. If nothing else, Yahoo is more glamorous of an association then the AARP and the article makes clear the engagement opportunity with the Yahoo audience.
  4. Patricia Lippe Davis from AARP Media Sales
    commented on: December 10, 2013 at 6:50 p.m.
    Whether Yahoo is "sexier" than AARP is not the issue, your proof point that Katie Couric leveraged AARP's and its 37 million paying membership to launch herself as the Boomer spokesperson nicely illustrates the power of the AARP brand. Thanks for the backhanded compliment.

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