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Yahoo, ABC Form Online News Partnership, Premium Ad Offering

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Yahoo transitioned back to a "premier digital media company" from a search company Monday with the announcement that it would launch a joint portal with ABC News. The agreement creates a series of original Web content that taps ABC brand names Christiane Amanpour, Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric. The news portal will support expanded premium ad inventory, but will the agreement lead to a bigger equity stake for ABC?  

Yahoo News and ABC News reach an estimated combined audience of more than 100 million people in the U.S. each month on PCs, mobile devices and tablets, executives from both companies said at a press conference Monday. The companies will create a suite of premium online video advertising offerings and a variety of sponsorships. ABC will lead sales during the "upfront" selling season and Yahoo will manage sales throughout the remainder of the year.

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The future of news and information online is still up for grabs, said Ben Sherwood, president at ABC News.

Sharing Ben's vision, Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo's EVP for the Americas and former president of Fox Interactive Media, said it all came together at New York Bagel in Los Angeles. Levinsohn took the helm at Yahoo in October 2010. That's when the two decided to collaborate on providing content.

During the last two years, Yahoo has been building a new publishing platform for PCs and mobile called Livestand. The platform supports features including rich photos, hands-on interactivity, and personalization technology ported over from Yahoo's front page. The mobile version will roll out later this year.

Teams from both companies will co-produce news events and will have integrated bureaus in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Yahoo editorial staff or content will appear on air.

During the press conference, Amanpour, Sawyer and Couric spoke of their excitement about expanding available content from television to online. The announcement builds on an existing "content licensing relationship" that began in 2005. ABC provides between 20% and 25% of the video news streams to Yahoo.

ABC will begin by producing three scheduled shows for Yahoo. The first show will feature co-anchor of "Good Morning America" George Stephanopoulos interviewing President Barack Obama. The interview will stream live on both ABCNews.com and Yahoo.com.

Microsoft formed a similar partnership with NBC, creating MSNBC in the mid 1990s. The network took a minority stake in the online company just prior.

With turmoil swirling around Yahoo following the firing of CEO Carol Bartz and the ongoing search for a new leader, the announcement begs the question of whether ABC would make a larger investment in the ailing online company.

During the weekend, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma expressed interest in snapping up Yahoo. At a Stanford University event near Palo Alto, California on Sept. 30, he said "We are very interested in Yahoo," -- but talks were halted due to "political" rather than "financial" issues.

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