What Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer Did and Did Not Say in Her CES Keynote
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What remains unanswered is if the evolutionary changes at Yahoo can lead it back to dominance. Mayer did not hit the CES audience with a lone, signature new technology. Rather, she introduced a multitude of ideas tied to themes of mobility and simplicity.
Photo sharing platform Flickr got a brief mention by Mayer, but not the elaborate treatment showered on some of the newer elements and apps being pushed by Yahoo.
The video hub, called Yahoo Screen, got time in the limelight. Yahoo Screen, also available as a mobile app, collects video from various sources, including cable and broadcast networks, in one place. Yahoo is especially interested in what Adam Cahan, the company’s senior vice president of mobile and emerging products, called “tablet in bed time.” “From around 8 to 11 p.m., tablet usage spikes,” Cahan said, “with 65 percent of users engaging on this device, effectively stretching their usage later and later.”
He also trumpeted the new Yahoo Smart TV platform, which automatically recommends shows based on viewers’ prior choices. “Our personalization services are learning from what you watch,” Cahan said. “They’re helping you find something you’ll enjoy.”
So what else is Yahoo cooking up? Media, from news to Saturday Night Live video clips, is getting a substantial push at the company. Over the last year, Mayer said, Yahoo overhauled its media properties to offer more curated content from TV networks such as ABC, CBS, and NBC.
Back in November, Yahoo announced that news and talk show host Katie Couric would serve as its global news anchor. Couric joined Mayer on stage Tuesday to discuss those plans—and the overwhelming flood of information often seen in the digital era. “At times, accuracy has been a casualty of immediacy,” Couric said. “Linking has too often replaced reporting.”
She believes old-school journalism still has a place, and wants to use Yahoo as a vehicle to bring some of her expertise to news on the Web. “We’re in the process of reimagining how we can take original and curated content and deliver it in a much more thorough and useful way,” Couric said, “particularly on mobile devices.”
Now Yahoo thinks it has a few new ways to help people find information, offering something that fits between headline-driven news sites and the chatty peanut gallery that makes up social media.
A new app, Yahoo News Digest, was demoed onstage by Nick D’Aloisio, a Yahoo product manager. D’Aloisio was the wunderkind behind the Summly app, which doled out news summaries to mobile devices; Yahoo acquired it last March. .
At CES, D’Aloisio showed how Yahoo News Digest aims to simplify news. “We realized at Summly that people wanted to be in the know,” he said, “but were finding it hard to consume the amount of information required.” Like Summly, the new app from Yahoo dishes out digests of the day’s news for mobile phones. Stories are gathered algorithmically, D’Aloisio said, yet curated by human editors. Each story is produced from multiple sources, he said, presented in units of information he called “atoms.”
Infographics, maps, financial tickers, photos, tweets, and Wikipedia entries could make up such atoms, he said, giving the more context for each story. At the bottom of each story, readers can see the original sources tapped for the stories in the digest.
Creating a magazine-style feel for its homegrown media content is another of Yahoo’s plans. Tech columnist David Pogue came to the stage to launch an all-new Yahoo Tech news section. He said it is geared for the layperson who cannot not follow the inside baseball and jargon of high-end, consumer tech media sites. “Everyone at CES is a gear head,” Pogue said, “but the rest of the country is struggling.”
One of the goals for Yahoo Tech, he said, is to speak in the voice of the average person. That means avoiding such jargon phrases as “form factor” and “price point.” “If you don’t talk like that, why should you write like that?” Pogue asked.
Overall, Mayer’s address was par for the course at CES—a meticulously scripted, relentlessly positive presser with “surprise” celeb appearances. A couple of Saturday Night Live cast members performed a short sketch, and R&B singer John Legend serenaded the crowd at the end. The entertainment played off Yahoo’s desire to become more of a force in the media realm. “At our core, Yahoo is about making the world’s daily habits inspiring and entertaining,” Mayer said.