Yahoo and MSN chiefs on networks, content farms and no risk programming

Posted on September 22, 2010

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from forbes

Yahoo And MSN Chiefs Talk Networks, Content Farms And No-Risk Programming

By LACEY ROSE
Digital Media Arts LabImage by laffy4k via Flickr

Sitting on a Beverly Hills stage before the Hollywood community, MSN’s US executive producer Scott Moore likened his company along with Yahoo! and AOL to the broadcast networks.

Much the way ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC strive to be on television,  portals like Moore’s are in the “mass” business on the Internet. “Advertisers know that if they want to break through and reach a big audience, they need to buy the homepage of MSN or Yahoo,” he said Tuesday morning at The Wrap’s The Grill conference.

What’s more, while their reach is far more impressive –Yahoo boasts 600 million monthly state-side viewers, according to Yahoo Media Chief Jimmy Pitaro– than their traditional media counterparts, these portals, too, are struggling to reinvent themselves as “mass” players in an increasingly fragmented landscape. Whether they care to admit it or not, competition ranging from TMZ to Facebook has stolen eyeballs and relevency from these once largely stand-alone players.

For Miller, a response to those growing options has been to rely more and more on content partners –or as he calls them, “experts” in their fields– much the way networks do studios.  Among them, BermanBraun, which has produced sites that are “already in profitability mode” like Wonderwall and Glo, with another political site along the way.

Yahoo’s Pitaro, on the other hand, is more focused on producing content in-house. In an effort to “differentiate” Yahoo with both ”a voice” and a fast-paced footprint in a noisy marketplace, he said the company continues to hire editorial talent and pump out new offerings like The Upshot. Going forward, Pitaro said he intends to be more creative –or less “conservative”– with his offerings, particuarly on the video side where he has previously leaned on recap shows. (He spoke about these and other topics at length in an interview with Forbes earlier this summer.)

Unlike TV networks, however, which rely on questionable focus groups, Pitaro’s approach counts on Yahoo’s viewer data that his team mines daily. The result: he not only knows what his users need but also what they want, something he delivers with a predictable mixture of controversy and success. “If the front page team tells us something will work, we pretty much know it will,” he said. “For us, it’s not a matter of low-risk; it’s no-risk.”

Complimenting those efforts is another want –as opposed to need– driven editorial spigot, which is fed by Yahoo’s recently acquired Associated Content, a content-farm that has served in recent months as traditional media’s favorite punching bag. But if you fear this approach to journalism is Argmagedon the way many who approached him following the acquistion did, he continues to argue it is not. Instead, Pitaro told his media audience, “It’s one part of the strategy.”

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