Kara Swisher

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MarissaTV, the Yahoo Q3 News — If It Bleeds, It Definitely Does Not Lead

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Time to hear Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer explain its third-quarter performance, which was, well, not very good.

Down revenue, down profits — decidedly unimpressive.

But Mayer is decidedly not, especially in her telegenic video earnings calls, which are being live-streamed in a kind of “Newsroom” meets “The Big Bang Theory” mashup.

Mayer will also answer questions from Wall Street analysts, and also from the general audience.

Here we go!

2:01 pm: Is it weird that I am as excited about this as I was about the season premiere of “Scandal”?

Yes, it is. But it also is what it is.

In fact, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is as TV-friendly as Olivia Pope and it is very boring when she is not on screen as well.

And, like Pope does in D.C. with her fantabulous spinning, Mayer has the unenviable task of explaining why Yahoo’s earnings and revenue have declined in the quarter, even as the entire industry rises strongly.

Of course, Mayer takes up the task with gusto. From the start, the results have been pushed aside for an enthusiastic list of all the good things going on at Yahoo.

Traffic is up! Mobile is up! Products are up! Talent is up!

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Just not earnings or revenue. Tough toenails — we are gladiators in suits!

2:10 pm: This performance is frankly impressive, a kind of believe-in-me-people technique that deals in hope and dreams of future results that have not come in the 15 months she has been in charge at Yahoo.

It’s the right move, of course, because it is undeniable that Mayer has improved stock and morale at the company and investors are captivated by her whole image and mojo.

Mayer repeats exactly what I thought she would repeat — her mantra that better people will lead to better products will lead to traffic will lead to performance.

Three out of four isn’t bad. Amirite?

Right, as long as the stellar turn from China’s Alibaba Group — in which Yahoo has a big stake — is around to keep the stock surging.

It’s all about the stock, as always, and Alibaba has delivered the inevitable boost Mayer needs to get to the last part of her plan to improve earnings and revenue.

Mayer calls it all a series of “sprints.”

2:15 pm: Mayer yields the local news desk to CFO Ken Goldman, who looks like he could easily shift to a career in local news in the New England area.

I like his park-your-car-in-Harvard-yard accent as he uses words like “some challenges” and “slightly offset” to cover over the weak performance in Q3. It somehow makes it sound better.

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Goldman is soothing in a way, but he is simply reciting what Yahoo has already said in its many charts and press releases.

He does note that Yahoo will be “pushing” even more acquisitions and also adds that employee numbers are up due to previous buys and also less attrition.

Goldman tosses in the good news about being able to keep more shares in China’s Alibaba in its upcoming IPO.

That should boost the stock!

“We are committed to revenue growth,” says Goldman later. Oh, that.

2:30 pm: Back to Mayer.

“We have made a tremendous amount of progress in our series of sprints,” she assures. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in our revenue growth.”

Moving on!

She then launches in some strategery magic to impress the folks at home.

Mobile is important, if ya didn’t know by now.

Mobile ads. Mobile products. Mobile monetization. Mobile, mobile, mobile.

“It makes our users tune in and not tune out,” says Mayer. I like what she did there.

Also, search is important, which it is, although the Microsoft advertising partnership keeps up its reliable underperformance.

Cut to Goldman, who forgets he is on TV and declines to smile. Then he gets that there is a camera on him and does. Awkward, but kind of adorkable. Ken, Boston’s WBZ is waiting!

2:36 pm: Now for the Q&A.

A question about advertising, especially its native ads — in-stream advertisements that kind of look like content.

Mayer notes it is in its experimental stages.

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Actually, it is her big bet, especially as display ad revenue declines.

A Twitter question! About when Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr would become accretive.

(Zzzzzzzzz. In my dreams, I wish it had been an offer from Twitter CEO Dick Costolo for Mayer to join the board to give the microblogging service some lady power.)

Both Mayer and Goldman give a non-answer.

Next, the obvious question: When is the traffic crossover going to result in, you know, revenue crossover.

Mayer notes again that Yahoo was back to 2011 traffic, so naturally, Wall Street wants her to show them the money. “It’s difficult to say when,” says Mayer about that, which is to say absolutely nothing.

A search volume growth question. I am off to the donut shelf at the office for that one.

When I return, I notice what a lovely shade of purple Goldman’s tie is.

Ah, a display question! How is Yahoo doing?

Programmatic is the name of the game, to get the best possible prices, although it still has not worked as yet, Mayer says.

Then a really good question about where Yahoo will be in 12 months.

“I think things are very exciting,” says Mayer. “Hopefully, we can bring some new twists.”

A question about the increase in employees. Mayer uses a karate chop hand on this one, noting that she is going to hire the best people no matter what.

Chop! Chop! Just not employees.

2:49 pm: A question on handing over the mobile revenue percentage! That would be nice since everyone else reveals this number.

Except Goldman decides to say nothing, but promises that he might consider it next year.

A question about what Yahoo will do with its Alibaba cash horde when it IPOs.

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Buy France!

(Just kidding. Goldman declines to say.)

Goldman again forgets to smile. Ken! Keep it tight! This could be better than “Orange Is the New Black” if you milk it. (Okay, that is asking too much, although Red might be a good weathergal if the cast of this quarterly earnings show is expanded.)

My mind begins to wander and I try to imagine who Ken and Marissa would be if they were characters on the Netflix prison dramedy. While she physically resembles feckless Piper, Mayer is more the warden lady, who gets stuff done with a smile and a metaphorical shiv in her back pocket; and Goldman is like one of the many eager beavers of the various groups who help out the bosses in the klink.

A query and paid click question.

“Overall, we think our search experience is good,” says Mayer.

As to quantifying the impact of acquisitions — Goldman notes there was some, but we are way too deep in accounting info.

Another question on query — the analysts want to know! Mayer declines to break out queries and notes that search share has declined.

But there is always tomorrow!

It’s another day, in case you have not heard.

A design question and its impact.

Mayer likes this one and gives a warm smile, as she is proud of her accomplishments here.

“We are really pleased with these refreshes,” she says.

The last question is about the premium display opportunities.

It’s a “big opportunity,” says Mayer, especially on the home page.

Mayer concludes with a list of the good news, from mobile growth to 15 product launches, and a very big smile to the audience watching at home.

In local news, as the old saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads.

Just not on MarissaTV.


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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo