Yahoo executives talked a lot about "new" ad formats and video-centric programming during its Newfront presentation, but a vague familiarity persisted until the very end of COO Henrique De Castro's presentation, when he made a promise to media buyers: give us a small yet sizable portion of your TV ad spending and we'll guarantee satisfaction.
It was a fairly bold moment – some in the audience laughed at either the audacity of De Castro's offer or the nonchalance of his delivery – amid a series of pedestrian showcases of upcoming video programming.
"Pick one brand on Yahoo," De Castro told attendees who had waited in long lines at the Best Buy Theatre in Times Square. "Call us and tell us you want to shift five to ten percent of your budget to Yahoo. And I will prove that it is the best return on your investment. And if not, I don't want your money. Pretty fair?"
Much of Yahoo's presentation sought to draw a connection between TV and their portal. A particularly drawn-out segment of Yahoo's Newfront presentation focused on the company's continuing relationship with ABC News, a collaboration that goes back about dozen years. Star correspondents from Good Morning America took the stage with ABC News President Ben Sherwood, who noted the show's recent successes over NBC Universal rival Today.
The emphasis on original video appeared to take a page from Netflix, which has won back critics and audiences these past few months with its slate of new content. TV stars gamely showed up to promote their Yahoo video programming. Curb Your Enthusiasm's Cheryl Hines was there to preview her forthcoming Yahoo show We Need Help with co-star Rachel Harris. Former primetime heartthrob John Stamos teamed up with hipster documentarian Morgan Spurlock to generate excitement for a series called Losing Your Virginity With John Stamos, which will feature tales about celebrities' "first times." Before that, former Daily Show fake news reporter and star of the Hangover movies Ed Helms introduced his series, Tiny Commando, which is about a miniature soldier sent to capture an equally diminutive though vicious Latin American crime lord.
Still, the most excitement seemed to be reserved for CEO Marissa Mayer as she repeated last week's news that Yahoo was getting exclusive rights to air past seasons of Saturday Night Live.
After the presentations and during a mini-concert by hot band of the moment The Lumineers, several media buyers said they felt they'd seen it all many times before. One said, "Remember last year when they touted Tom Hanks' Electric City? Well, that big production went nowhere fast."
In other words, Yahoo once again missed an opportunity to explain how the portal is relevant to audiences and advertisers. There was a lot of talk of appealing to women, for whom Yahoo and its rival Aol seem to hold more appeal than they do for men. But there was much more programming aimed at general audiences, particularly younger urban males.
The only things that sparked media buyers' interest – they didn't want to be quoted – were the all-too-brief mentions of a new deal with magazine publisher Condé Nast, where Yahoo will be distributing its "lifestyle category" video offerings, though it wasn't clear what the ad sales arrangement would be.
And advertisers were slightly more interested in hearing about the two new ad formats being introduced: Yahoo Stream Ads, which was billed as "a performance-based native advertisement embedded in the personalized content stream on the new Yahoo homepage," and Billboard, which presumably will either supplant or complement Yahoo's current takeover splash page ads.
Yahoo executives barely mentioned its new video ad buying process intended to combine its own video channels with distribution partners’ video content to create 18 "category-specific channels that deliver a new level of contextual relevance for advertisers."
There was no discussion of Yahoo's tech stack or how its Right Media exchange platform or its data management tool Genome would be used to generate ad support for its new entertainment offerings. Instead, the main discussion of advertising was centered on the value of native ads. The implication suggests that Yahoo, which lost its display ad leadership to Google about two years ago, may be looking at its new ad units as second fiddles to its main instrument.
"Reach is not enough," De Castro said at one point, addressing marketers and advertisers. "You need engagement. You need interactive video, rich media, custom, branded entertainment. And you need native ads. The user is not going to distinguish between ads and content anymore. They want a totally unique experience, but one that is seamless across all their devices."
Cross-platform is pretty much widely accepted these days. But despite the lavish spectacle of its Newfront, Yahoo failed to demonstrate the value of a general portal and its ability to create "unique, engaging experiences" in the face of branded sites that have a distinct identity and tone like BuzzFeed, or a social network that is truly personalized like Facebook or Twitter, or Google's search, which helps users sort through the web's infinite content to get exactly what they're seeking.