Mayer moves Yahoo further away from search with new content push

LAS VEGAS—Forget search. The future of Yahoo is content. Yahoo’s loss to Google in the search engine wars was already quite evident before the 2014 International CES, but CEO Marissa Mayer revealed a new focus for the company during her Tuesday keynote at the tech trade show.

“A common theme is us simplifying our business,” Mayer said at the show. “Fundamentally when you look at Yahoo it’s about four core areas: search, communications, digital magazines, and video. These are four things people do as part of their daily habits.”

Mayer made a slew of announcements about new Yahoo products tied those core areas. In the process, she answered a few questions like: Why on earth did the company hire TV anchor Katie Couric and former New York Times technology columnist David Pogue?

Mayer and Couric at CES 2014 James Niccolai, IDG News Service

Marissa Mayer, right, greets Katie Couric onstage at CES 2014.

Riding the content wave

Couric is anchoring interviews and original content for Yahoo’s mobile apps, while Pogue will lead the Yahoo Tech digital magazine, one of the first magazines Yahoo will launch this year. The company also trotted out Nick D’Aloisio, the teenage CEO that made headlines when Yahoo last year acquired Summly, his summarization technology. Summly is now baked into another new app that Mayer unveiled at CES, Yahoo News Digest.

Marissa Mayer at CES 2014 James Niccolai, IDG News Service

Mayer presents to the audience at CES 2014.

News Digest delivers two daily news summaries of current events to users, one in the morning and another at night, and pulls content from all over the Web—tweets, photos, infographics, maps, and so on—to make the stories more visually appealing.

D’Aloisio said the app is the best of both the tech and journalism worlds, because “the stories are algorithmically produced but editorially curated.”

News Digest isn’t a unique concept. Apps like Circa have been trying in recent years to solve readers’ thirst for extremely short, but incredibly high-quality content. But Yahoo’s news efforts needed a shot in the arm: News Digest is its attempt to stay relevant in the world of bite-sized information.

Yahoo Tech

Yahoo’s new digital magazines feature some heavy talent, like David Pogue, formerly of the New York Times and now editor of the new Yahoo Tech, which is shown above.

While 140-character news is on the rise, readers are also thirsting for visually rich long-form stories, which is where Yahoo’s new digital magazines aim to compete. Mayer hired big-name journalists like Pogue for Yahoo Tech, which launched Tuesday along with Yahoo Food. As with News Digest, the concept of a niche digital mag is nothing revolutionary, but it offers Yahoo a chance to ride the wave of popularity of apps like Flipboard.

Pogue posed Yahoo Tech as a tech site for “normal people” who don’t live in San Francisco or New York, hoping to garner mainstream users who don’t follow tech blogs (or Yahoo’s struggles to stay hip).

All about ads

Yahoo’s digital magazines, like the rest of its products, are free, but that’s OK: Yahoo has a whole new advertising plan. The magazines will incorporate native ads, the company has a new ad manager and ad exchange for businesses, and ads on Tumblr are about to get more sophisticated.

Tumblr CEO David Karp joined Mayer to talk about how Yahoo’s ad tech will power the micro-blogging site’s ads, and boasted about the reach of sponsored posts on Tumblr (which are re-blogged an average of 10,000 times). What does that mean for users? You guessed it: highly targeted ads, and a lot more of them.

Yahoo at CES 2014

News Yahoo apps like News Digest (left) and Aviate reflect a company in flux.

Yahoo says search is still a core part of its business, and Mayer kicked off her keynote announcing the acquisition of Aviate, which will use your phone’s location and your daily routine to surface the apps you use most.

“We believe home screens should be smarter and more personalized,” Mayer said. “Imagine that your phone could deliver the right experience to you at the right time instead of you having to search for it.” A good example would be a fitness app that pops up when you’re at the gym.

That’s not exactly active search. But let’s be honest: The company under Mayer is well on its way to becoming a content and advertising company. Ads have always key to Yahoo’s business, but if the company can marry advertising and original content in a way that doesn’t anger readers, it could become more than just the site you glance at for stocks and sports before making your way to other parts of the Internet.

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