What’s Behind Yahoo’s Syndication Strategy

Yahoo’s planned push into syndication could prove a boon to the company that’s sought to find its niche as something more than a not-Google and not-Facebook.

Syndication, of course, is nothing new. We already see widgets, plugins, and buttons, everywhere increasingly from the big players such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and now Google +1. Facebook has done a striking job at this by becoming a provider social plugins, which have a significant adoption from large sites like NYTimes.com and WashingtonPost.com. Equally prevalent is the embedding of video and image content from sites like YouTube, Vimeo, Vevo, and Hulu.

Yahoo is bringing to the table a sizable community of 188 million unique users, a deep well of content assets, relationships with publishers and advertisers. Publishers are looking for more content and advertising, advertisers are in need of more inventory and want to associate themselves with premium content, and content owners would love to earn more revenue from their assets. The payoff, if it executes its strategy, is more reach, more ad inventory and more revenue. The opportunity is Yahoo’s to grasp — or lose.

While Yahoo has been relatively absent in this type of syndication there is a gap that they can fill in the space. To gain a head start to fill this gap in the market, AOL acquired 5min to syndicate video content and purchased many content-creation companies, such as StudioNow, and even HuffPo and TechCrunch. Yahoo has similarly acquired companies to fill gaps, including citizensports.com and Associated Content. Some think that Yahoo’s acquisition of 5:1 may play a role, but from my perspective, it is certainly not enough.

While Facebook may utilize the social graph to feed you content openly and directly from your connections, Yahoo can utilize its “content personalization” technology to serve up the right dish of text, image, and video. As the WSJ states, Yahoo plans to enable smaller publishers who “may have less sophisticated Web technology or less data about the personal interests of their visitors than Yahoo.” Providing this technology capability, and, more critically, the content and shared advertising revenue to boot, is a very promising offering. Publishers want to be paid, and other widgets and components that don’t pay or provide significant utility will be replaced, giving Yahoo a fair chance.

With a brand like Yahoo, this can definitely work, but it comes with challenges. For example, managing the needs of publishers and all the permutations of content and ad flows is tough. Moreover, Yahoo should avoid only publishing its own content by giving the publisher a chance to leverage this new technology with their own content and allow other third-party content owners a chance at distribution. They should also avoid using these placements to link back to their own properties — something common with YouTube and AOL/5min — allowing the publisher to keep its user. The audiences will win with greater access to more relevant content without having to work too hard to find it.

Publishers are looking for solutions, but they are also in need of something comprehensive, open, and integrated. We hear this all the time from publishers, and YouTube, AOL/5min, and many times their own video content management systems just don’t offer enough for them. Usually it is because these offerings were built before their time and have not been continuously improved. Yahoo can solve this if they take a more holistic approach, something that has taken us at OneScreen time to understand, build and deliver.

On paper, Yahoo has all the assets and relationships to make this into a big win for the company. There have been other missed opportunities for the company over the past several years. It shouldn’t let this one pass it by.

Atul Patel is CEO of OneScreen, a digital content and advertising syndication platform.


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