In yet another dramatic move to beef up its place in the social media war for eyeballs, Yahoo! Inc (NASDAQ: YHOO) announced on Monday that former ABC correspondent Katie Couric will join the company early next year as its Global Anchor. The announcement was made on the company’s blog by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer.
Yahoo recently hired away technology writer David Pogue, political correspondent Matt Bai, and deputy news editor Megan Liberman from the New York Times in an effort to add some veteran reporters with star power to the company’s editorial team.
Couric’s addition is arguably the riskiest yet by Yahoo which appears to be transforming itself into a media company. The company apparently believes that content is king and that adding respected, seasoned content generators like Couric will result in a far wider social media reach than Yahoo now enjoys.
Though hardly an old-line media company, Yahoo — and Mayer — have long since conceded that competing with Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) is a losing proposition and that the portal business is also well behind the forward curve. The winners are likely to be companies that offer original, branded content and that can get their arms around other aspects of social media.
The flurry of talk, if not any actual action yet, around mergers in the pay-TV business is another facet of the shift to social media. If an mergers actually do occur — and we think they will — the goal will be to increase access to a much larger broadband audience. Cable subscriber numbers are shrinking and that trend is unlikely to reverse. Media content companies like CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) are leveraging their original programming by charging higher carriage and retransmission fees and increasingly charging more for digital rights where in the past those held little interest.
For Yahoo, creating a solid, well-recognized news organization could be one way to avoid having to pay the lofty fees content companies demand and if the company can generate enough social media buzz, it might even be able to license its own content. In one way hiring Couric could be just a way to get into the old media business. If that’s the case, this is a really bone-headed decision. But done correctly and imaginatively, Yahoo could become a provider of branded content that would once more make the company more than another portal with a good business in display advertising.
Yahoo’s shares are down about 0.5% in the noon hour at $36.31 in a 52-week range of $18.34 to $36.85. The high was set earlier today.