TV Premieres Push Yahoo Home Page Ad Sales

YahooPromotion of fall TV shows helped to lift home page ad sales for Yahoo and other Web portals in the second half of the third quarter, even as ads from daily deal sites all but disappeared, per a new report. The latest study of home page ad trends by Macquarie Research found that after a weak second quarter and first half of the third quarter, advertising rebounded strongly for Yahoo from mid-August through Sept. 30.

For example, the Yahoo login page, where the company began selling ad space last year, sold out on three-quarters of the days during that period, compared to just 17% in the first half of the quarter. Yahoo also saw gains in sales of higher-priced oversized/custom ad units and purely brand-focused advertising, largely fueled by campaigns for TV premieres.

Media industry advertising accounted for 35% of home page ad units in the back half of Q3 compared to just 7% in Q2. That reflects a higher proportion of media ads than AOL (22%) and MSN (19%). And 39% of Yahoo's ads were oversized or custom versus 26% and 29% at AOL and MSN, respectively. Among the four sites analyzed, including YouTube, Yahoo also had the highest percentage of brand-oriented advertisers, at 61%.

But the good news for Yahoo comes with an asterisk from Macquarie. "While we don't want to completely discount these clearly positive trends, given the disappointing display results in 1H 3Q and 2Q, YHOO may have used some discounting and promotions to help drive quality and sell-through," stated the report by analyst Ben Schachter. So Yahoo may have had to lower ad rates to drive higher sales.

For AOL, which has weaker-than-expected ad gains in the second quarter, the picture was more mixed. Its proportion of oversized ads increased during the period, but was still lowest among the four main Web portals. What's more, its highly touted Project Devil units remain rare on the home page and are not gaining traction with marketers. AOL also had the lowest proportion of purely branding-focused advertisers, at 26%.

Like Yahoo, YouTube saw a surge of home-page ads driven by the TV networks promoting new shows. The site's defining masthead unit sold almost every day, with 80% of the site's ads coming from the media, auto and consumer electronics categories.

MSN also enjoyed gains in the second half of Q3 driven by increased media sector spending, but the quality of advertising overall remained less than ideal. Endemic online marketers like for-profit education companies and various Web services made up its largest category of advertisers, at 24%. For the third quarter overall, MSN sold oversized ads 20% of the time compared to 15% in the second quarter and 17% in the first quarter.

One type of advertising that fell off for all the portals was that from daily deal sites, perhaps reflecting the waning of the Internet coupon craze. After several quarters of strength, advertising by daily deal/group-buying sites all but disappeared over the past six weeks, according to Macquarie. The investment bank estimates that just 1% of ads across the four portals came from deal sites, and none from the most prominent players like Groupon and LivingSocial.

That compares to 5% in the first half of Q3 and 8% in the second quarter.

"Obviously, this calls into question the sustainability of attracting new subscribers, or at the very least of paying for high-profile, mass-reach ads to do so," noted the report, in relation to the deal sites. Category leader Groupon has repeatedly pushed back its IPO. and other, smaller competitors have shut down or consolidated in recent months. 

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