Thursday, June 12, 2008

Yahoo Opts for Google Ad/IM Deal, MSFT Deal is Off. Can We All Go Home Now?

In what promises (for now) to be the end of the Silicon Valley soap opera known as the future of Yahoo, AP reports that Yahoo opted to seal a deal with Google for both the use of Google's ad network and enabling the interoperability of their instant messaging networks shortly after having announced the suspension of their attempt to revive talks with Microsoft on a potential acquisition deal. Yahoo shares tumbled immediately afterwards, leaving the long money on Yahoo holding a devalued stock but a deal that is likely to be one of the best ways forward for ensuring a reasonable future for Yahoo.

As noted two months ago in ContentBlogger, a deal with Google seemed to have been the best route for Yahoo all along, promising lots of new Yahoo page inventory for Google's more robust ad inventory and complementary media and technology profiles that were never as much at loggerheads as people made out some years ago. As for Icahn et al., while some may have been looking out for shareholders wanting short-term money out of what they had assumed was a cooked goose they never really seemed to have the goose's best interests in mind - or, for that matter, the best interests of Microsoft shareholders. After Yahoo would have been carved up it would be hard to believe that there would be a whole anything that would be greater than the sum of the parts.

As much as people tried to paint this as a Yahoo desperation deal clearly it was moreso a desperation deal by Microsoft to buy some time to build a broader position in online markets for its faltering ad network, with virtually no apparent upside for Yahoo properties. There was a lot of Ballmer bluster but underneath it all Microsoft was rolling the dice heavily for a very risky deal that had little solid strategy behind it beyond a temporary ad revenue boost from peeling away Yahoo ad accounts.

By contrast the deal consummated by Yahoo with Google is expected to pump in significant new ad revenues to Yahoo from Google's superior ad network, a total win-win any way you look at it. The deal is non-exclusive, so Yahoo can choose a plan "B" any time that it wants. In the meantime the other huge win-win is the promised interoperability of instant messaging networks. Google already has interoperability with AOL's still-popular messaging network, so the stage is set for the next major deal to whisper about - a Twitter acquisition that will provide a unified front end to the world of instant messaging.

With a generation of Web users coming of age focused on IM, Facebook and other platforms, email systems creaking with offensive and virus-laden spam have become a legacy messaging technology that wil die a slow and largely unprofitable death in much the same way that the telegraph lingered well past its prime. We use email because we have to - not because we want to. Focusing on accelerating the growth and usefulness of IM systems while leaving their email services to take their own paths is a smart move for both Google and Yahoo. A merger of Yahoo mail accounts to either Google or Microsoft's mail networks would have been a long, painful and largely unprofitable endeavor.

I felt all along that an independent Yahoo would be better for the content industry as a whole so I am glad that at least tonight we can go to sleep knowing that there will be a wider variety of good platforms through which to publish content than if the Yahoo deal with Microsoft had gone through. Jerry Yang's team still has a lot of challenges ahead of them but with an improving stable of user-friendly destination content properties and a progressive approach to supporting brand advertisers Yahoo promises to have a strong place alongside other major online portals for some time to come. At least I hope so - I really don't relish a deal war as ugly as this one any time soon.
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