Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yahoo Celebrates Its 15th Anniversary: Now, Is It Finally Time to Buy AOL as a Gift to Itself?

Today, Yahoo is turning 15, which makes it approximately 105 in Internet years.

All joking aside–especially since that makes BoomTown 134 years old–reaching this mark is both an accomplishment and a burden, with Yahoo (YHOO) CEO Carol Bartz pushing forward a very deliberate transformation and employing a fix-it management style in her tenure at Yahoo of just over a year.

While the seasoned exec has most certainly gotten the trains running better, sliced off underperforming assets, mounted a new marketing and image campaign and struck several social networking deals–as well as putting an end to Yahoo’s painful turmoil with Microsoft (MSFT) by striking an online advertising and search partnership–some are now wondering if there needs to be a more dramatic facelift at Yahoo to hurl it forward at even greater speed.

It is a velocity that others have been reaching far more aggressively, from the spate of product releases and frenzy of acquisitions at Google (GOOG) to Facebook’s spectacular global growth to Microsoft’s efforts with its Bing search and mapping services.

That’s why, said several observers I spoke to this week, Yahoo’s stock has stayed squarely in a narrow range from $15 to a little over $17 in recent months–steady but without a lot of spark.

“Everyone understands the message of fixing the company and cleaning up the system,” said one person who does a lot of business with Yahoo. “What I think people want now is something more profound and clear in terms of exactly what the company is going to be in the next 15 years.”

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Thus, while Bartz (pictured here) has consistently touted Yahoo as one of the most trafficked sites on the Web and as the “center of people’s online lives,” some, including major investors, think Yahoo needs an even clearer message.

One that most mention is to push its status as the premier premium content delivery site on the Web even further, differentiating it more starkly from Facebook, Google and others.

And one particular suggestion that has come up more and more frequently is for the Silicon Valley icon to dramatically demonstrate that by acquiring AOL (AOL), which is also trying to save itself by drilling down on content.

Under CEO Tim Armstrong, formerly a top ad exec at Google, AOL has been selling Wall Street on a vision of becoming a massive content machine to sell pricey ads against.

While the jury is still out on whether it will work or not, investors have been impressed with the effort.

Because of it, more of them think a melding of Yahoo and AOL is a better idea than it once was.

Yahoo made several failed attempts at merging the pair of Internet icons when AOL was owned by Time Warner (TWX). The company has also previously looked at buying Demand Media, another huge online content play.

Now, as a spinoff, AOL’s market valuation is about $2.7 billion, a little more than one-tenth of Yahoo’s.

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One investor who has long been high on the idea said that Armstrong (pictured here) has the more pronounced Internet DNA needed to be CEO of the combined entity, as well as stronger talents in the online ad space, while Bartz has the critical executive discipline needed in what would be a very active chairman.

Interestingly, the combo of the two was a thought I heard yesterday from several people attending a marketing communications conference sponsored by the American Association of Advertising Agencies in San Francisco, where Bartz spoke in a session titled “Transforming Yahoo!”

While I did not attend the Bartz session, reviews were mixed, with attendees noting that they wanted a whole lot more inspiring and innovative vision from Bartz, who did mention Yahoo’s recent content deal with Hollywood player Ben Silverman.

“I kept thinking how Tim Armstrong would sell Yahoo,” said one longtime top ad exec. “I know Carol Bartz can fix Yahoo’s ills, but I want to know what she is going to do after that.”

It’ll be interesting to see if this birthday wish ever comes true or not.

In any case, I hope Yahoo enjoys its special day today–here’s a video of my fave version of “Happy Birthday,” by Stevie Wonder, which is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.:


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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