After flirting with Hollywood, Yahoo! is reaffirming its Silicon Valley roots.
It is expected to unveil today Yahoo! Tech, its first new vertical property in five years and the first large-scale release from its much- ballyhooed media unit. Yahoo! Tech figures to be a template for how the Yahoo! Media Group will meld user-created content and social media tools with a dose of its own programming to remake its various channels.
The launch is particularly important for Yahoo!, as some of the media group's initial original content offerings, like Kevin Sites in the Hot Zone and Richard Bangs Adventures, have gained little traction.
Yahoo! Tech hopes to differentiate itself from sites that cater to early adopters by helping everyday people understand consumer technology. The site is a mixture of aggregated content from partners like PC Magazine and Consumer Reports; Yahoo! services like search and shopping; and original Yahoo!-created content, such as blogs and an Extreme Makeover-type show for technology. Underpinning it all are Yahoo!'s social media tools, such as user-generated questions and answers from Yahoo! Answers, shared product reviews and the Yahoo! 360 social networking platform.
The vertical channel is the first full-scale release of Yahoo! Media Group, which created the expectation that Yahoo! would make a major push into entertainment media creation. As a model for the group's approach, Yahoo! Tech shows it is more tech steak than Hollywood sizzle, with the Martha Stewart-like tagline, "Tech made easy."
The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company had fed early expectations that it would transform into a next-generation film or TV studio. In 2004, Yahoo! secured an enormous office space in Santa Monica, Calif., and later that year hired the hard-charging and highly regarded former ABC exec Lloyd Braun, who is credited with greenlighting Lost and Desperate Housewives, as head of Yahoo! Media Group. He initially spoke of creating an "I Love Lucy moment," which he saw as defining the possibilities of Web programming.
Instead, he and his team have essentially returned to what Yahoo! had been doing all along: focusing on information and technology. Yahoo! Tech is more Sunnyvale than Santa Monica, carrying out a prosaic mission of creating an info- and product-heavy destination with community sharing features unique to the Web. Slick, original, TV-like programming takes the backseat to user-generated content—be it photos, videos or product reviews.
The emphasis on aggregated and user content over Yahoo!-created programming is not a divergence, said Scott Moore, vp of content operations for Yahoo! Media Group. It never intended to create a blockbuster hit with its original content efforts, Moore said. "There was an awful lot of speculation, and much of it was overblown," he said. "This is a pretty good example of where we see the balance point is" of original, user and aggregated content.
"I believe their intention was always to balance content creation with content distribution," said Jeff Lanctot, vp of media at aQuantive's Avenue A/Razorfish, who added that earlier, "the emphasis skewed too heavily to the content-creation side."
Even the centerpiece of original content, a reality program called Hook Me Up, is infused with user content. The show will outfit a person with technology, leading each segment with the user-submitted video detailing how they are tech-challenged. Yahoo! Tech users will decide the submissions to be given a makeover. A key feature Yahoo! plans to add is the ability for users to create lists of products they own and share their experiences with their contact circle via Yahoo! 360, in effect creating their own micro-communities of trusted sources.
Yahoo! plans to undertake similar, gradual makeovers to popular vertical areas, like news, finance and sports, integrating its social media tools and sprinkling in user-generated and Yahoo!-created content. And Moore said, "Yahoo! Tech is the model in my mind" for those other areas.
Likewise, Yahoo! is attempting to get Yahoo! Tech advertisers to think differently about their creative, to "talk of the lifestyle benefits of technology, not just the speeds and feeds," said Elizabeth Harz, Yahoo!'s tech and telecommunications category development officer. For example, it is asking its video advertisers on Hook Me Up to make fresh ads for the show, rather than repurpose TV spots. Verizon Wireless created a fresh intro ad for the show, which debuts in two weeks, and will also have product placement in Hook Me Up. Eventually, Harz hopes advertisers will incorporate social media tools to draw users further into ad creation in keeping with Yahoo! Tech's editorial approach.
Hewlett-Packard, Verizon Wireless and Panasonic are Yahoo! Tech's kickoff advertisers.
Yahoo! is banking on its social media-centric and mass-appeal approach to make it stand out from rival vertical destinations. Pat Houston, the former editor-in-chief at CNET.com, whom Yahoo! hired last May to lead its tech content efforts, said the site was "built for people who have not been adequately served."
But back at CNET, evp Joe Gillespie said Yahoo! would have a tough time being all things to all people. "[CNET's] for the early majority," he said. "We don't want to be for people casually interested in technology. We want people that are passionate."
Greg Smith, evp of media insights, planning and analysis at Aegis Group's Carat Fusion, applauded Yahoo!'s focus on social media. "I think we could do more than deliver banners, and I think we could do more than just redeliver TV," Smith said. "I'd like to think we could use the interactivity of this medium to deliver new things."