What Should Yahoo! News Do Next?

25 Feb

It was great fun to generally manage Y! News (during my time heading Media and Information @ YHOO) and help make it the Number One news brand on the internet.

Part of the fun of those great years (2004 and 2005 mostly) was working with a great team. Hence this post:

There is the start of a very interesting Facebook discussion here (heads up: FB login likely required) ignited by my former Yahoo teammate Tony Tam, a pal and engineer extraordinaire behind Yahoo! News (along with Jeff, Todd, and Glen and everybody else, of course; you know who you are) 🙂

Tony asks: “what are the next game-changers that he and the team should build for Y! News?”

Tony is giving the entire online world an opportunity to help write the spec for the next phase of online news.

So I think we should help!

I’ve given it a start here, in a short suggestion about letting me add more customized sources to my Y! News feed. But let me elaborate:

We made Y! News No. 1 (my former colleagues at CNN.com quibble with this but in terms of pure global engagement and reach, Y! News generally rates No. 1) by focusing on the five key things news customers (and there are more than 40M monthly) care about:

1. Depth of coverage. Deep. Vertical. Profound. Everything you need to know about a subject.

2. Breadth. Lots of points of views.

3. Accurate. No week old postings from spurious sources. I can get that elsewhere. Not at Y! News.

4. Real-time. (This one is obvious. Enough said.)

5. Respect My Intelligence. (Ah, the hardest of them all).

The first two are among the reasons why the internet is grabbing news audience share, at the expense of other media (newspapers foremost among them). Depth and breadth reflect attributes that technology can really help with (search, personalization, automated aggregation and display of related material — photos, original source material, etc.) It is harder and harder for journalists to compete.

But in this next phase of online news development, such sites as Y! News will have to get much better at understanding the audience and accurately predicting the information likely to be of most use to the audience at a given moment, for a given need. Why? Economic opportunity. Because, as bankrobber Willie Sutton famously said of his targets: ‘That is where the money is!”

We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface here, and the opportunities are immense. (Can’t spill all the beans here, can I? 🙂

From a money-making point of view, two important things: While I agree in part with Wenda, who reportedly told the IAB earlier this week that the advertising outlook has dimmed partly because of the laser-focus of the interactive industry on data, rather than brand, there are two key innovations that will drive higher engagement, and higher monetization rates, for online news and content — especially in such sites as Y! News:

1. Y! News can create much more shareholder value by delivering to advertisers greater insight about the interests and real-time demands of the audience. It has the building blocks today (huge reach, great brand, deep engagement). Where to go next? By knowing the audience preferences (think ‘heat-map’) in real-time and then linking those preferences to the needs of advertisers (again, in real-time), Y! News would create tremendous additional value.

An example: fuel prices, while low now, will surely again heat up sometime in the future. As that happens, auto advertisers should shift their message into the rising tide of latent demand, and prices should rise for the ability to market to that demand. Y! News is platform that could optimize that opportunity on a grand scale. It can do it only crudely today, by focusing on key words and traffic to certain areas of the site (Entertainment, Photos). What I am outlining goes substantially beyond the capabilities today.

2. If Y! News’s can anticipate my information needs and deliver to me the information that I need (or perhaps don’t even yet KNOW I yet need), it will lift its value as an audience aggregator (and site of a high-value audience demographic) well beyond current levels, which are already pretty good. I’ve thought a lot about this, and again, let me keep a few ideas ‘behind the curtain’ but I am certain we have only scratched the surface of the business opportunity for news in the coming year.

Just not news on a printed paper, alas.

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