Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Liveblogging the Yahoo-Microsoft Search Deal Conference Call: The Carol and Steve Show Debuts!

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BoomTown was so glad we had this time together with Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz and Microsoft (MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer, just to have a laugh or sing a song about a major Web search and advertising deal.

I liveblogged the conference call, which I updated as it happened.

Did Ballmer scream and jump up and down? Did Carol say something naughty?

Or as the companies said:

SUNNYVALE, Calif. & REDMOND, Wash., Jul 29, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE)–Yahoo! Inc. and Microsoft will host a conference call for accredited media and financial and industry analysts at 8:30 a.m. ET/5:30 a.m. PT today, July 29, 2009, to discuss the search agreement the companies recently announced. In addition, b-roll footage will be available. The satellite feed of b-roll footage will contain broadcast footage of remarks from Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, as well as corporate Yahoo! and Microsoft b-roll footage.

B-roll? More like, were Bartz and Ballmer on a roll?

To find out, read on!

5:28 am PDT: It was EARLY on the West Coast and we were being forced at first to listen to really sleepy music like you might hear in a dentist’s office.

Zzzzzzzzz…

5:34 am PDT: Memo Impresario Eric Brown was late! But, as soon as he gets on, the new Yahoo PR head began with an enthusiastic hello about the deal.

Bartz was up first, followed by Ballmer. They were clearly together in the same place, likely in Silicon Valley at some bunker.

“This is a great day for Yahoo,” she said. “It’s a game-changer and I am glad to finally be able to talk to you about it.”

Her patter was clearly scripted, but Bartz was pretty jaunty in her delivery.

borg

And sassy enough to make the first of many dings to former Yahoo savior Google (GOOG)–not by name, but as either “the market leader” or “the competitor.”

Why not just go right to calling the search giant this deal is aimed at battling what Bartz really meant: The Borg.

Bartz stressed that this deal only covers search and the search ad business and not, say, display advertising.

And, she added, while Microsoft’s AdCenter technology will power the money-making, “search will continue to be an integral part of the Yahoo consumer experience.”

Boiling it down, Bartz said: “What this deal is really about for everyone is scale.”

Cue the next Google dig: “The combination of Microsoft and Yahoo search puts the choice back into the hands of consumers, increasingly concerned about the influence of a single player.”

Single player=Darth Vader.

5:40 am PDT: Ballmer was next. “I am so delighted to see [the deal] come to fruition,” he said.

ribbon_cutting

He does not say much more except that he hoped it would “flourish and come to life over the many years.”

Ballmer sounded like someone speaking at a ribbon cutting of a copy store at the mall.

The livelier Bartz came back on, discussing the terms, hewing pretty much to what was already in the press release.

Microsoft’s AdCenter as technology. Integration. 10 years. No display deal. Separate user experience.

Now to the bucks, as Bartz noted, they add $500 million to Yahoo’s operating income, save $200 million in capital expenditures and improve annual operating cash flow by $275 million.

“At its full implementation,” she added. There is always a catch!

Bartz said Yahoo would use the money to invest in its other properties, although she was not specific.

Then, it was onto regulatory issues and getting this party started.

Bartz put on the brakes. “This deal will not happen overnight,” she said.

Actually, not even close. She predicted a closing in early 2010 and it being rolled out over the following three to six months.

mom_and_dad_romper

Finally, Bartz thanked the tireless teams who did the deal. “With a lot of help from Steve and I,” she said and then quipped, “not always so.”

She and Ballmer were now sounding like a hip mom and dad.

5:45 am PDT: Question time!

The first one was about why the pair did not do a display deal and also how they were going to bridge the huge gap in how much each made per search compared to each other and Google.

Bartz said that the point was to keep the deal idiot-proof. “Frankly, we wanted it as straightforward and simple as possible,” she said.

Ballmer concurred: “We are taking a big bite here.”

As to the earnings gap in search, he said, “The deal in and of itself will let us close gap with the market leader.”

Ballmer tried not to say the word “Google,” but stumbled and did anyway.

The next question was about Bartz’s shift from her “boatloads of cash” quote–which she said, in an interview with me at the seventh D: All Things Digital conference in late May, was a must for a deal with Microsoft–to her new “boatloads of value.”

loaded-boat

Simple, she said, trying to gloss it over–Yahoo did not need a big cash payment up front (and it did not get it either).

“As far as we are concerned, the boatload of cash is us preserving our revenue line,” said Bartz.

The next question was about what Microsoft gets out of this deal.

“We clearly see an upside as execution really builds,” said Ballmer.

After more money questions, there is finally one on regulator issues.

Back to Google-bashing from Ballmer.

“I suspect the competitor who may not like more competition is Google,” he said.

Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith then jumped in and talked about working together and filings in D.C. and making the case.

He said he “looks forward to the debate,” which is just what a lawyer would say.

5:58 am PDT: Finally, the layoff question.

Bartz is clear here. Some Yahoo search employees will be dragooned over to Microsoft, some will move to other parts of Yahoo and some will be let go.

“Unfortunately, there are some redundancies,” said Bartz.

More financial questions, one on the mobile search market, one on innovation, one on scale and one on advertisers.

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“Advertisers, especially smaller ones, want to make sure there is enough meaningful market for them and they don’t want to learn three platforms,” said Bartz. “They know how to enter into the Google system.”

She said “Google system” like she was talking about a gulag.

Meanwhile, Ballmer talked about how good it was to now be No. 2. Really, he did, since he was a distant No. 3 before this deal.

6:11 am PDT: Some technology question. Ballmer noted that the deal was not a “rip and replace” of Yahoo’s search for Microsoft. It will be an “integration.”

Next was a question about how this deal measured up to last year’s more money-laden offer by Microsoft.

Bartz said she didn’t just want an upfront payment, but a “true partnership,” with control over the Yahoo user interface and “real skin in the game.”

Ballmer called last year’s deal more investor-focused than operational. “The deal was different for Microsoft, not better,” he said, leaving out the cheaper part.

Finally, I get called on, and ask about who will lead the integration and how it will get done, so as not to create a huge distraction.

Bartz said it would be a “smooth transition…not that different from when Yahoo went from Overture to Panama.”

I did not have the heart to tell her that the transition of the Yahoo ad platform was anything but smooth and one of the reasons Yahoo got into the trouble it has gotten in.

Ballmer noted that the leadership that put together the deal is the leadership of the companies in the digital arena.

snowball

I also asked how the deal finally came together, especially after such historical rancor.

“It was like a snowball down a hill,” said Bartz.

But it was also a complex ball of ice, she added, noting “it was not a two-page term sheet.”

More like hundreds of pages. “There was not a high level of abstraction,” said Ballmer.

Finally, finding a kind of married groove–from that time before the random bickering sets in–Bartz noted that “dating is one thing, but having a partnership is another.”

She added: “The good news once we reached a point we believed to be advantageous, [we did a deal]…that’s how partnerships work.”

Well, exactly how it all works out, of course, still remains to be seen.


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