Kara Swisher

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MarissaTV Is Back in Q3, Starring Alibaba Gains, Revenue Doldrums and Audience Questions

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marissa_tvIt’s not “Scandal,” of course, but after the markets close today, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer will take to the Internet airwaves to deliver the second edition of her attempt to glamorize earnings by doing the traditional call with analysts via a television-like news show.

News about Yahoo’s ad business, though, is expected to be muted, with Wall Street expecting a flat-to-down performance in its core businesses. When and how the Silicon Valley Internet giant can change that is the big question hovering over its third-quarter earnings.

The people on the line to deliver are Mayer, COO Henrique De Castro, and new ad sales exec Ned Brody, whom Yahoo recently poached from AOL. There are increasing rumors inside and outside the company that De Castro is the one on the thinnest ice if Yahoo cannot turn its core business around sooner than later.

But today it will be Mayer and Yahoo CFO Ken Goldman, who joined for their first anchorperson turns in the second quarter.

As I noted then:

Although I have been watching television since Richard Nixon was president, this video earnings call idea is pretty cool. Why has it not been done before? (It will be done again next week, as Netflix CEO Reed Hasting grabs his 15 minutes.)

Thus, as soon as the legal disclaimer was over, it was Mayer and CFO Ken Goldman sitting at a news desk, in a sort of “Good Afternoon, Yahoo!” situation.

Because it is not exactly pertinent to comment on how anyone looks, I decided to not do so — except to say that Goldman was sporting a very nice oxford shirt.

To keep it fresh this time, as an added gimmick for its third-quarter results, along with queries from Wall Street, Yahoo said it will “accept questions in advance of the live stream with tweets tagged #YHOOearnings or by emailing yhooearnings@yahoo-inc.com.” (The deadline is noon PT/3 pm ET, so get cracking!)

Hopefully for Mayer, no one will drill down on what is likely to be the ugliest of the results: Another flat or down quarter for Yahoo growth, even as the entire industry grows strongly.

Analysts are estimating that the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company will report a profit of 33 cents a share on revenue of $1.08 billion. That’s down from 35 cents a year ago, on revenue of $1.09 billion.

It’s important to watch the results in display, which has been tanking for a while now, despite representing nearly half of sales. It was down 12 percent in the last quarter. Search-ad revenue was also down in the second quarter, by nine percent.

Look for Mayer to continue to claim that the company is still in turnaround — part of the people, then products and then profits map she has laid out. It’s essentially a down-is-the-way-up strategic vision, promising eventual payoffs from all the investments in talent, acquisitions and morale-boosting. And let’s not forget Logopalooza!

Mayer will also likely tout mobile growth, which she has recently said is about 350 million monthly users out of 800 million active uniques overall. She will clearly push the line that Yahoo is growing users, even if it can’t grow revenue and profits.

Not that the lackluster results matter in any way to the ever-increasing stock, up 70 percent since July, which has been buoyed in part by Mayer’s persistent deployment of moxie. But, in reality, Yahoo owes much of that rise to China’s less-flashy Alibaba Group, in which Yahoo has a still-large 23 percent stake.

It has to sell half of that when Alibaba has its expected IPO — likely in the first quarter of 2014. That will represent a lot of cash for Yahoo, of course, half of whose valuation is due to Alibaba and also its stake in Yahoo Japan.

Naturally, Yahoo will shove Alibaba results in the report, since they look a whole lot better than its own performance. In the last quarter, the Chinese juggernaut tripled its profits.

When Mayer can show off like that is hard to determine — but the show, as they say, goes on. Until then, a little Olivia Pope magic might work.


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