Rieder: With Couric, Yahoo makes big bet on video

Marissa Mayer is making a big bet on video.

In luring Katie Couric from broadcast to tech,the Yahoo CEO is underscoring that a heavy emphasis on content in general and video in particular will be a key part of her strategy to turn around the aging web portal.

It's widely reported that Couric, long a major star in television news, will leave ABC and soon sign on as Yahoo's "global news anchor." Couric is expected to conduct interviews with major players on the Yahoo homepage.

For Couric, former coanchor of NBC'sTodayshow and the first female anchor of theCBS Evening News, it's an exciting opportunity to reinvent herself in a new medium. Her profile in recent years has been decidedly lower as the host of the syndicated showKatieand as a little-used ABC News special correspondent.

For Mayer, this is another bold move in her effort to breath new life in the once moribund Silicon Valley icon.

To be sure, the firm has made great progress since Mayer left Google to take the helm at Yahoo on July 17, 2012. By sheer force of personality and will, the high-profile executive has radically changed the image of the company, very much for the better. Yahoo is cool again, or getting there.

She attracted attention byposing for a glam fashion spread forVogueand engaging the publicin revamping the company's logo. She made some big-ticket acquisitions, including the hot blog platform Tumblr. She went after top talent. She upgraded the apps.

And Yahoo's stock has soared. It sold at $15.65 the day before she arrived. It closed Friday at $36.49, a jump of 133%. During the same period, the S&P went up by 33 percent. Not too shabby.

Of course, Mayer had a little help from her friends here Much of the company's success on The Street has been due to its stake in Alibaba, a well-regarded Chinese e-commerce and auction firm that came into the company pre-Mayer.

Regardless, there's no doubt that the former Google exec has done a remarkable job reversing Yahoo's course in her first 16 months. But a formidable, and overarching, challenge looms.

Advertising is Yahoo's core revenue source and, squeezed by the likes of Google and Facebook, Yahoo's ad business remains flat. That's a problem that must be fixed -- easier said than done in the highly competitive world of digital ads.

But it's becoming clear that content, with a heavy emphasis on video, will be a key element in Mayer's efforts to buttress the fortunes of the Silicon Valley giant she runs.

In September,Yahoo hired Megan Libermanaway fromThe New York Timesto head up Yahoo News. The company said Liberman will lead "a major expansion of Yahoo News, bringing in new voices and defining features for the site. She will focus primarily on original reporting, social news gathering, video and live events coverage."

The following month, Mayer returned to herNew York Timesfarm club topoach big-name tech columnist David Pogue.Known for his reviews of gadgets and enthusiasm for all things tech, Pogue will contribute columns, blog posts and, significantly, video.

Pogue is no doubt a major get. But the imminent arrival of Couric raises the stakes dramatically. She's one of the preeminent TV personalities of the last couple of decades. The symbolism of her leap from TV and the defection of the Times talent to the digital world is obvious.

(These tech hitters seem to love the journalism. Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezosrecently boughtThe Washington Post,and eBay founder Pierre Omidyaris sinking $250 million into a major journalism startup.)

Asked to confirm the Couric hire, a Yahoo spokeswoman emailed Sunday, "We don't have anything to share at this time." But lending weight to its likelihood is the fact that one of those reporting on it is Kara Swisher of the tech website AllThingsD, who is very well sourced at Yahoo.

So Yahoo moves ever deeper into the content world. It's a surprise, given that most felt that Mayer's push would be much more on the product side. The video emphasis is understandable, given that video ads seem much more attractive to buyers than traditional web ads.

There are certainly no guarantees. This is a very competitive battlefield.

But give Mayer big props for making an audacious move.


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