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And so the relentless march to media convergence continues: Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) has inked a pact with Comcast's (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) CNBC in which the Internet portal's Yahoo! Finance will share content with the business news TV network, and vice versa. The finer points of the deal weren't released, but essentially we'll be seeing a lot more of both information sources on their respective outlets. News flash! Though not the mega-deal that will solve all of the two companies' problems, this is definitely a plus for both.
Wanted: viewers and clicks
Both Yahoo! and CNBC are in some disarray. Over the last few years, the former has made headlines for the wrong reasons, notably its string of CEO-of-the-week hires and departures. As for CNBC, recent media reports have it that viewership's been sinking for nearly all of its shows, and the channel's managers are "freaking out" over this development.
Zooming out a little, parent company Comcast (technically the majority owner of CNBC holding company NBCUniversal) has more pressing concerns. In the 2011-12 broadcasting season, total viewership rankings at its flagship TV network, NBC, came in last out of the so-called "Big Four" broadcasters, which includes CBS, Disney's (NYSE: DIS ) ABC, and News Corp's Fox. NBC's ad sale commitments for the upcoming TV season are barely higher than those of last year. And unlike, say, the more diversified Disney with its theme parks, movie studio, and consumer goods, Comcast is heavily concentrated in broadcast operations.
Having said that, neither Yahoo! nor Comcast is completely adrift. It's just that they could use a win or two. Their increased presence on each other's site/airwaves will enhance the respective brands and provide plenty of PR.
Will this lift revenues, though? Eventually, in a trickle-down way, probably yes. The Web portal should be able to attract a few more clicks to its finance site from day traders keeping an eye on the CNBC feed and curious to dig further into the channel's new Yahoo! content. Likewise, if done right, CNBC teaser material on Yahoo! could whet a visitor's appetite for more and deeper coverage, causing him or her to fire up the TV and watch the channel for a while. The happy ending in this story would be higher ad rates for both outlets.
Steering its way through the storms
On the Yahoo! side, the CNBC agreement fits in pretty well with the company's strategy over the last few years. Realizing it was spending a lot of capital unsuccessfully warring with Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) over Internet search, in 2009 it essentially dropped that business in favor of leasing the services of Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT ) Bing.
It was high time, too. According to the most recent statistics, Google now has a mighty 66.7% share in search, with Microsoft (15.4%) and Microsoft-fed Yahoo! (13.4%) trailing ever further behind.
Yahoo! instead decided to focus on content, content, and more content. The idea was and is to make the company's big portfolio of sites as sticky as possible. If a Web surfer isn't interested in finance, maybe he or she will cruise on over to Yahoo! Sports and check out the day's scores or simply drop by their Yahoo! webmail account to see if anyone's gotten in touch.
It's admirable that, despite the heavy turnover of CEOs in the past few years (Semel, Yang, Bartz, Thompson, Levinsohn... yikes, it's like a football team), the company has stayed true to this strategy. It's also to be commended for paying attention to it despite noisy and distracting shareholder demands to make a pair of big-scale divestments: the company's monster stakes in Asian B2B site Alibaba and Yahoo Japan (a similarly titled but separately owned firm). After several frozen years of much talk and no action regarding the sell-offs of both, the ice finally melted last month when Alibaba agreed to buy back part of Yahoo!'s chunk of the company for around $7.1 billion.
So the noise should subside a little for now. And quiet time is good time. Yahoo!'s most recent quarterly results were rather encouraging. In its 1Q, revenue came in a shade over analyst expectations at $1.08 billion, while EPS was some 40% higher than anticipated by analysts. Its shares rose on the news, but not by much. This is to be expected from an accident-prone company that's engendered a lot of cynicism in the market.
Modesty is the best policy
This deal isn't earth-shattering for either Yahoo! or Comcast. It's certainly nothing compared to the former's partnering with Microsoft in search, or the latter's 2009 budget-busting acquisition of a majority stake in NBCUniversal. It's a small step, but a step in the right direction that could benefit both companies in the long term. And it's a good sign that they're both thinking strategically and intelligently about their futures.
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