Can Marissa Mayer Be Brandon Tartikoff?

The complaints from content creators about YouTube’s revenue sharing structure are well-documented.  And as Peter Kafka and Kara Swisher wrote in Re/Code, “having the giant YouTube dominate the online video space is frightening to many,” including advertisers and producers.  So Yahoo’s recent announcement about developing its own high-end content programming, and the reports about its moves to acquire some YouTube stars and/or MCNs, should come as no surprise.

Nor should the backlash.

As a basic idea, there is nothing wrong with Yahoo’s plan, and the company had had many  successes to match its mistakes. But the naysayers are already vocal about their skepticism. Let’s not forget that YouTube itself, as opposed to its platform users, has in many ways failed at a similar endeavor.  Still – it’s a bold move, video is hot, and Yahoo can fund content and drive awareness at the turn of two spigots. But there are three key issues that it will face in this re-boot of its already robust, if culturally irrelevant, content history:



Consumers vs. customers. Yahoo appears to be unclear on whether it is building a consumer video consumption experience (like Netflix) or an advertising platform (like Hulu).  This may appear simple, but back when there were only three channels, TV networks didn’t need to be all that strategic (sorry – it’s true).  Advertising is now a part of the revenue stream for a TV network – but for Yahoo, it plays a much bigger role. That means its consumer experience is less important than its customer experience (in this case, the customers are the advertisers).  And it means that solving producer revenue issues with YouTube stars may provide content, but it won’t solve for the compelling consumer video consumption experience.  Yahoo needs to decide who matters most.

Apps vs. all the other discovery ideas. Whether I log onto my Apple TV, Xbox, Roku, or Samsung TV, I use apps to watch content.  My selection is based on experience and intuition – which is essentially a branding exercise.  Netflix, Hulu, Vevo, and soon brands like The New York Times and Conde Nast – these are focused brands whose content value proposition I understand. Even YouTube, with its disparate content, delivers on a set of consumer expectations about the channel.  Yahoo is not, to date, where I will turn for amazing content – instead, it’s known for doing a bit of everything.  Plenty of awareness, but no consideration.  Think about that compared to Google, which has managed to build a brand as well as a suite of products and services.

That said, there have been some recent stellar turnarounds in content brand perception.  AMC, History Channel, and Netflix have all dramatically changed the perceptions about their brands, using content, in the past five to seven years.  And it may be hard to remember, but not very long ago HBO was purely a window for other creators’ content. It’s since become an episodic creative powerhouse of unassailable quality.  So we know it can be done.

 Data vs. serendipity. Here is a quote Marissa Mayer made in January: “In video, we are focused on building our audience and our library. Changes in user behavior have guided our approach to video content, focusing on introducing a personalized well organized video experience that engages our users.”

That sounds like a data management system – not programming.  Even Netflix, with its massive amounts of data (it accounts for 1/3rd of nightly home internet traffic) and an unusually high content success rate, is going to miss frequently.  It’s not at all clear that a personalized video experience delivered by Yahoo will be useful to consumers.  There is a certain amount of personalization we have now – via apps, favorites, and through the integration of social.  But we also enjoy serendipity – I won’t ever search for “Butch Cassidy,” but I stick around when it appears.

High-end content, just like all of entertainment, is a hits business.  And while data can inform it, to date there is no such thing as a guaranteed hit.  That’s why “The Hunger Games” gets a marketing budget of $45 million  to remind you of its existence, and why 65% of TV content still fails in season one.

The opportunity

The opportunity is rooted in Yahoo’s scale, data and the ever-increasing video consumption habits of consumers.  Yahoo boasts roughly 725 million uniques per month; any TV network would salivate over that kind of promotional opportunity.  It has deep analytics capabilities, and is loaded with consumers who watch content.

So, backlash aside, here’s hoping that Yahoo, or someone narrowly experienced and strong like Vevo, can emerge to balance out YouTube’s primacy in online video.

4 comments about "Can Marissa Mayer Be Brandon Tartikoff?".
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  1. Robert Rosentel from Mediavatis Consulting LLC, April 18, 2014 at 4:04 p.m.

    Good points.... but how many people reading this know Brandon Tartikoff? Scary but maybe true..

  2. Jennifer Finger from KeenReader Inc., April 18, 2014 at 9:31 p.m.

    I would have explained somewhere in the text of the article what Brandon Tartikoff has to do with what you're arguing. I know he was head of programming for NBC, but I don't understand what that has to do with whatever you're trying to argue.

  3. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, April 20, 2014 at 5:40 a.m.

    Pretty sure this is limited to English-language channels in the USA and e.g. "65% of [NEW] TV content [in the USA] still fails in season one". Worldwide, YouTube is overwhelmingly dominant.

  4. Eric Korsh from DigitasLBi, April 21, 2014 at 1:06 p.m.

    Thanks Jennifer - Brandon led a huge turnaround at NBC - that's the connection. And really just an inside statement for old people.

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