Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

The Yahoo-AOL Jabberfest Continues Ad Infinitum (Plus Some Jerry Yang Chitter-Chatter on Video)

Last week–in a clear sign that BoomTown has spent way too much face time in front of the idiot box–I compared the endless bickering back-and-forth between Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer to the annoying push-me-pull-you antics of Ross and Rachel on the television show, “Friends.”

But the continuing discussions between Yahoo and AOL execs over the merger of their struggling online companies have their own TV comparison–the never-ending roundelay on “The View.”

In other words: Blah, blah, blah. Chitter-chatter. Pointless arguing. Chin-scratching. More blah, blah. More chatter. Blah.

Thus, there were still more discussions going on at Yahoo HQ this past week about the possible deal, in which Yahoo is code-named Yale and AOL Amherst.

Along with Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and President Sue Decker, the key Yahoo (YHOO) execs involved in pushing forward the effort, are U.S. head Hilary Schneider, and Greg Mrva, a former investment banker and analyst who is in charge of mergers and acquisitions at the company.

As I previously wrote, the main suits involved in repping the Time Warner (TWX) unit are AOL President Ron Grant and Time Warner M&A SVP Jim Burtson.

“More of the same discussions about how it would all integrate,” said one source close to the situation at Yahoo. “Same as always.”

Added an AOL source, in what I consider the understatement of the year: “There has not been a lot of clarity in decision-making at Yahoo.”

Big surprise: Still no deal!

That’s unusual to me, since all the true obstacles–namely, the collapse of the controversial search advertising deal Yahoo tried to strike with Google (GOOG), AOL and Yahoo’s results coming in as weak as expected and, lastly, a definite lack of interest from Microsoft (MSFT) to rebid for Yahoo–are no longer in the way.

And, of course, Yahoo’s share price–the stock has settled into the depressing $11 to $12 range that gives the company a $15.7 billion valuation–is simply not going up any time soon.

So, if the deal is to be done, the price–or percentage, really–will probably have to be based on today’s reality, which is a very bleak outlook in the graphical online advertising business in which Yahoo plays most strongly.

That’s why dithering is a problem for this possible marriage, despite all the obvious complexity.

For one, it takes all the air out of any momentum such a combination could produce for either Yahoo or AOL, which will be much needed in the current economic environment.

In fact, such an econalypse is actually the perfect cover to try to pull this turnaround–and it is exactly that–off, given few investors or media will expect much from the merger for a while and be more forgiving.

In addition, the slash-and-burn integration needed to drastically refocus the new company–hopefully on three things only: advertising, content and communications–will be easier now more than later when the financial outlook improves.

“Things are going to get a lot worse than people think,” said one AOL exec. “So, this is a really good time for a reset and for cleaning things up.”

It is also easier now to bring in fresh ideas and new leadership to a combined Yahoo/AOL, as a new company will surely give many talented outside execs who have avoided both separately a reason to look again.

I could go on as to why this deal should move forward quickly, but here is one piece of great advice I got several years ago, from a well-known Internet entrepreneur whose company had just taken a big gamble by buying a controversial but fast-growing start-up in a key category.

At the time, many decried the move as too risky and too pricey and too thoughtlessly done. When I asked the exec about this, he did not argue, but offered this:

“No one really knows how anything is going to turn out, no matter how long they think it through,” he said. “But, I believe it will all work out if we execute well on the promise, because I did know one thing for sure: It was the right direction.”

And, indeed, while you can puzzle over a map endlessly, knowing the right direction to go in is the only thing one can be sure of in almost any circumstance in life.

Therefore, all Yahoo and AOL have to do is pick a path–whether it be to move on or merge–and just go.

By tomorrow would work for me.

In the meantime, below is a video I did of Yahoo’s Yang onstage at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last week, talking about the travails of the last year.

It includes him saying Microsoft should still buy Yahoo, which felt a little too much like a plea to me. (I happened to be sitting next to some Microsoft execs during the speech and they did not look too moved by the begging.)

But judge for yourself–here’s the video (yes, the Web 2.0 Summit organizers did flash a picture of a jar of Jif peanut butter as a joke–ha, ha, referring to the infamous Yahoo “Peanut Butter Manifesto”):

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald