Yahoo’s brand spankin’ new CEO Scott Thompson had his coming out party at what turned out to be a rather curious Q4 earnings call. The numbers are the numbers: up here, down there; news on the Microsoft Search Alliance and the usual “we’re going to try harder and do better” sort of rah-rah chatter.
What struck me was the length of time Thomspon spent on the call providing some direction on his take on what Yahoo must do to become competitive…or become competitive again. Much was said on a generalized basis, what stood out was his mandate that there were “no sacred cows,” meaning he is willing to shut down (pretty much) anything if it doesn’t benefit customers (and presumably shareholders). Curious minds no doubt run through a list of possible products and services on the chopping block: Livestand? Screen? Livestand came out fairly strong but now seems like another in the growing pack of social magazine platforms. Screen (which, for some reason still bears a Beta tag) is the hub for Yahoo’s original video content which runs the gamut from Morgan Spurlock’s serial drama “The Failure Club” to “Chow Ciao,” hosted by a former “Top Chef” contestant. The quality is inconsistent and while the viewing numbers are good (CFO Tim Morse says one in six Americans has watched a Yahoo original show) there’s no innovative path for monetization and Yahoo history with original content is somewhat unstable (remember Lloyd Braun?)
Thompson also spoke of balance several times. Primarily, he says, the balance for Yahoo is to be both a technology company and a media company. Not one or the other—both. This is a mantra that Carol Bartz struggled with in both painting a picture of what such an enterprise would look like but also what magical alchemy would result in this modern corporate blend. In the meantime, Apple (whose finances soon could qualify them for EU member status) is actually creating the blueprint for a media-technology company. Apple’s recent e-textbook event in New York unveiled an end to end ecosystem for creating, marketing, selling and consuming e-textbooks Sure sounds like a media-technology company to me.
Does Yahoo need to become Apple to become successful? Does Scott Thompson need to go on a Steve Jobs-like spiritual journey to an ashram to see the future? The answer to both questions is no. Yahoo lost its way when it decided it wanted to be like everyone else and lost sight of Jerry and David’s original vision of adding a layer of discovery on top of the unwieldy World Wide Web. It’s corny and off base to say Yahoo needs to return to its roots—that ship has sailed. What Yahoo needs is to distill its future vision into an elevator pitch that, like a perfect prism, can be viewed by different constituencies in a way that makes sense to them. Is Thompson the right guy for the job? We’ll be watching.