Yahoo’s Worst Problem? It’s a Media Company

What strikes me as most depressing about Yahoo (YHOO) is that roughly a billion people use it each month and yet it can’t grow, doesn’t make a ton of money, and is the doormat of Silicon Valley. If a pioneering media company that is beloved by many of its multitude of customers can’t make it, who can?

Two thoughts on that, in no particular order. First, that Yahoo is a media company very likely is its worst problem. Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) sell advertising extremely well. But they aren’t media companies. They create advertising products and platforms; they don’t create content. And despite some more or less honest efforts to throw revenues the way of those who do deal in the realm of ideas, information, and entertainment—Google’s YouTube is a genuine example—the two Internet behemoths succeed because they’re great with software and have found extremely profitable and clever ways of skimming the cream off of the creativity of others.

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Yahoo, on the other hand, has stubbornly continued to be a media company with dollops of technology layered on top, though not nearly as well or as consistently as Google and Facebook. (Yahoo reported a dismal quarter Tuesday and said it would sell assets and reduce its workforce.) One of Marissa Mayer’s signature media moves in her three-year-plus year tenure as CEO was to buy the blogging platform Tumblr for $1 billion. Yahoo wrote down the value of Tumblr and other acquisitions for a total of $4.4 billion.

The second thought about Yahoo not having made it concerns the company’s own self-inflicted wounds. Mayer said Tuesday the company needed to simplify itself. But that’s after she took a hopelessly complicated company and made it more complicated with a blitz of acquisitions, product re-shuffling, and confusing acronyms. To her credit, she gave it the college try, and the board of directors wanted an Internet product expert, not a financial engineer, as CEO.

Have Yahoo employees lost faith in their CEO?

Mayer isn’t the first CEO to try and fail with Yahoo. And she’s not the first to fumble with media assets. News flash: This isn’t an easy business.

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