In part three of our five part interview with Jeff Dossett, Yahoo's senior VP of audience who heads up the Santa Monica office, he talks about Yahoo's unique, research- and advertiser-driven approach to developing original video programming, as well as whether big media companies are partners or competitors (or both).
For more on Dossett, read the introduction to part one of our interview. Read part two here.
Ben Fritz: What about your approach to original video programming? It seems like with your new celebrity mom show, I'm forgetting the name –
Jeff Dossett: “Spotlight to Nightlight.” I love it.
BF: It seems like there was the old approach, the one I think Yahoo was taking, was the TV approach, which is “Come in and pitch me twenty shows, make three of them and see which one hits.” Seeing how you developed “Spotlight,” it seems like the content sort of came last. First “What's the audience,” and then you had an advertiser, and then you designed the content around that rather than listening to pitches. Is that right, is that your general approach nowadays?
JD: I think that's accurate. I think that we take a much more audiences-insights-centric approach to determining where can we add value, where can we serve an unfilled or unmet audience need uniquely well, and so we start with the vast amount of data that we have within our interactions with online users, and from industry research, and we keep peeling away layers of the onion to find something that's uniquely actionable – that nugget of audience insight that we can focus our innovation in and around, and when you do that you create blockbuster hits. They break through all the clutter online, and they propel Yahoo to number one.
OMG was a great example of that, as an overall experience. “Primetime in No Time,” for that particular segment. “Tech Ticker” in the business and financial news segment. It resonates so well with the audience: “Help make sense of what's happening in the marketplace today.” We need to have all the articles from the authoritative business content providers, but now we make it more human, we make it more understandable, we make it more relevant to our audience. The engagement level with “Tech Ticker” has been extraordinary. And as a result of that, we've made it easier for people to consume the content in a manner in which they want, and subsequently they interact more deeply with the rest of content on Yahoo Finance.
There are so many examples: “Good Morning Yahoo,” for news. “The Sports Minute,” for sports. These all come from audience insights first, and then, working with advertisers who also are trying to connect with this audience, we collaborate and then identify unique, compelling, innovate experience for users, and we build that and deliver that, and each time we do that we create a hit.
It's focused, targeted original programming. We're not confused about which business we're in, or what type of company we are. The vast majority of content that exists on the Yahoo network is licensed or acquired from other people who are experts in that area, but we can absolutely add value, and original programming is a great tool, or tactic that we use. It really adds the Yahoo tone, personality and essence to the experience that might otherwise be somewhat commodotized or equivalent across the market.
BF: Along those lines of content, I'd like to get your perspective on how you see Yahoo partnering or competing with traditional media companies, networks, etc. One great example might be something like Hulu. I think when it started, we all thought, “Oh, Yahoo and the other big websites are going to be the place people find this content,” and it seems like Hulu.com has become a much bigger competitor than maybe a lot of people thought, as opposed to the syndication model. Do you still see them as really valuable partners and advertisers, or do you also see them as competitors you're going up against in some categories?
JD: Again, I think if you start from an audience perspective on this, and it helps guide what we do and how we do it, it's clear that our audience needs, wants and expects premium content experiences, however they're created or delivered. And so, we need to assemble the highest-quality content that exists in the industry, including when available through media partners, directly or via intermediaries like Hulu. Then, our opportunity is to add value in and around that experience. We see ourselves very much as partners to the traditional media companies, who are great at what they do.
That's one of the great things about being in this marketplace, in this geography, in this building right here: We are in one of the most creative, richest content creation communities on the planet. And as all content creators want their content to be experienced, to be consumed by large audiences, there's a great partnership and collaboration that exists between traditional media or content companies, and Yahoo. The ability to bring together premium content experiences with the largest, most engaged audience on the Internet is a great partnership, and I think we view it with opportunity. I think we've become an essential partner to the traditional media organizations who need to connect with large audiences, and so there's a tremendous and fair exchange of value between the two different organizations. You asked about Hulu...
BF: Or just that model of TV episodes.
JD: Audience behavior is changing online. People's willingness to consume episodic TV online has changed with ubiquitous broadband connectivity, with the availability of high-definition video streams, and because the audience wants it, they'll be able to find it on the Yahoo network. To make that content available to our audience, we partner; and we partner with Hulu in this particular case, for that content that is available only through the Hulu experience. And they're a good partner to us, but I view that as sort of the starting point for our opportunity.
We have the premium content available to us through an effective partnership, and now we get to innovate in terms of the user experience, the context within which the consumers will consume that content, and as I said before, being able to add value to it through original programming, and connect that great content. Make it easier for Yahoo consumers to discover, consume and share or engage with that content in a unique and innovative way. That's what we do best.
BF: At the same time you're partnering with them to get their content, you're also competing with their web assets that they're investing a lot in, like Hulu or TV.com, or ComedyCentral.com, ABC.com – I mean, you're also competing to be the place where I would want to see those episodes, right?
JD: I think that's exactly the point. We want to be the place, the experience through which users come to experience that content, because we think more holistically about all of the different types of content and services that that user may want during a day, a week, a month, a year, etc. So yes, in a sense we're competing for audience, but there is a mutually beneficial partnership to connect great content with the largest, most engaged audience on the Internet. We'll continue to partner and compete for audience, but we'll compete on our own merits, and again: user experience, original programming to add value, and audience and network programming are really the three key elements of our differentiation.
BF: And have you found their willingness and eagerness to partner with you – now at Yahoo, and even in the past at MSN working with them – have you found that changing at all? Has online become more and more important to them, have you seen them be concerned at all with, “Gee, I don't want to give everything to Yahoo, because I'm spending hundreds of millions; I just want CNET,” or “I'm just launching this whole new website on my own”?
JD: I think content partners understand the value of connecting premium content with large audiences, and in that sense, Yahoo is an essential partner. If you are a content creator, and you want your content to be experienced by the largest, most engaged audience online, you want to be partnering with Yahoo. It's a positive, mutually beneficial collaboration and partnership, so I think that like in any partnership, if it's a fair exchange of value and our interests are aligned, it can be very effective. I think it's more about collaboration and partnership than it is competition, frankly.
To be clear, we're very respectful of the expertise of content creators that exist outside the four walls of Yahoo. We believe, and we understand and respect the power and the value of compelling content experiences. For example, where we sit right here I can look out and see literally twenty companies that are amazing at creating fantastic content that I know the Yahoo audience wants. We have a respect for great content; where we add value is connecting that content to the right audience at the right time in the right context. That creates an environment where advertisers want to associate their brands, which creates economic value that we can then share with the content creators. It actually is, I think, a great marriage between content creation and audiences. And we have a much greater sense now of how we add value, and we're focusing our resources on the value add, and leveraging great partners where it makes sense to do so.
I think that's why you're seeing us extend our leadership in each of the key audience starting points on the web, and why I think even in a market as challenging as we're facing right now, Yahoo is taking share. It's earning share among audience and advertiser dollars because we're more focused on where we add value and the audience insights and then doing things that enable us to connect the audience with these content experiences.
Tomorrow: Does having a Santa Monica office still make sense? How does social media fit into Yahoo? And can it compete with Google on search?