Thursday, March 02, 2006

What Success Looks Like for Online Content: Yahoo Searches for Footing

The rumors continue to swirl around the present and future of Yahoo's content unit. It seems that they are backing far away from their ambitious plan to develop a slew of new, online-only content. That's fine. A reality show based on a competition to see who could build the best home theater sounded not only extraordinarily boring, but also like one of those creative ideas built around a desire to land product placement deals.

I can't say I can read all the tea leaves in the statements from Lloyd Braun, Yahoo's content chief. The communal sense is that he is not a good fit for the company and is expected to bail out any time now. That could be true, of course, but both Braun and Yahoo are trying pretty hard to dispel the rumors. Particularly interesting are two of Braun's statements around the new-content pullback:
1) "I didn't fully appreciate what success in this medium is really going to look like," he said. "This is not about creating one-off hits like in my old business.

"I now get excited about user-generated content the way I used to get excited about thinking about what television shows would work," he said.
Well, now. I think this is a bit of the content-gospel that those who've been in the online world for a while have definitely come to appreciate. The challenge of broadcast (incluing movies and music and whatnot) is one of authorship. The challenge of interactive is about enablement. It's about building a launch platform, not a space shuttle (how's that for an analogy-stretch?)

When Braun says he "appreciates" the difference between what success looks like online and on-air, does he mean he finally gets this message? Does "appreciate" mean "understand" or does it mean truly like, enjoy and feel passion for?

The answer, I suppose, in the veracity of that second statement: that he gets equally excited about user generated content and professionally-generated conent. I simply read that statement, but I'd love to have heard him say it. I would have listened for any note of concession in his voice. User generated content won't get him to the Oscar party, and it may not let him fit in down in a town that considers users to be $10/head audience members and little else.

But maybe he's got it. But I wonder if Yahoo is thinking that maybe the path to content doesn't go through Hollywood nearly as much as it goes through MySpace?

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