Variety's most recent cover featured a cartoon version of Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer carrying a Y-shaped cross. It created a predictable media backlash this week. Content farms must prepare their #longform, Harvard Business Case style content, outlining the fall of a legacy internet company.
When you're in the content industry, you have to beat the dead horse before it is actually dead, arriving first to give it the most memorable knock. Upon hiring, Marissa Mayer represented a media darling, but now the same content farms that made her a compelling celebrity CEO will be eager to crucify her on a Y-shaped cross. Just this week, Reuters reported on the first round of low bids for Yahoo! and segments of its assets.
The reported bids for Yahoo! Will likely end up being less than Marissa Mayer spent on acquisitions during her time as CEO. Without being a shareholder, Mayer's employment term can be defined as a failure. Having acknowledged that, I am still not entirely sure why Yahoo! is compelling enough to report on. Or compelling enough to poorly depict a CEO in a cartoon that has drawn more attention than the content of the article.
Coverage of Yahoo! taps into the nostalgia of the site as a ubiquitous force when the internet was a no longer just as dynamic as a piece of paper. It even had television commercials and a jingle.
In the race for users that once pitted Yahoo! directly against Google, Yahoo! still finds itself with a substantial user base. According to ComScore, It had 206.9 million visitors in March, making it the third most popular website in the US behind Google and Facebook.
The video sites under Yahoo!'s content umbrella attracted 58.2 million unique visitors in the US during February. This makes it the third most popular video destination behind Facebook and YouTube.
#Yahoo!shaming seems like a stretch because it isn't a particularly interesting company as compared to today's perpetually covered unicorns like Uber, Airbnb, or any Elon Musk-affiliated company. It broadcasts live sports as if it is a legacy television network, and it boasts Katie Couric as the friendly face of the content. It's not hot with Millennials, and they haven't been associated with innovation since the 1990s, when merely parsing HTML in a browser was amazing enough.
The negative press of Yahoo! centers around the perpetual epiphany that Yahoo! is a content company. It's not a search engine, and under Marissa Mayer, the company focused on all of the wrong things. Instead, it's like the much-hated cable company where no innovation occured.
It feels like the media is celebrating the failure of a competitor that is still way bigger than everyone else.
When a tech company is failing, media verticals outside of tech circle on the carcass of the company. They source former employees, and affiliated experts to give hot takes and assessments of the coulda-shoulda-woulda of running a company. The better the quotes, the more likely your exclusive piece will stand out in the sea of press.
The Variety cover is predictably controversial. A female CEO carrying a cross, evoking sacrilegious undertones for the benefit of a tech industry expose. It's not the last deep dive on Yahoo! that we'll read that attempts to serve as the predictive eulogy of the company. Many more will try to be the bookend that lands closest to the end of Yahoo! as we knew it.
In 1998, Yahoo! was the most popular website on the nascent internet. In 2008, Microsoft Corporation made an unsolicited $44.6 billion bid to purchase Yahoo! Since the rejection of the bid, the landscape of the internet has greatly shifted. If sustainability was actually valuable, the story of Yahoo! could be considered a success. But today, there is more value in what your latest round of funding says you are worth than the endgame.
Lately, we've had plenty of practice romanticizing the skyrocketing valuations of mythical unicorns that have never actually made money. But the story of Yahoo! is only compelling because it foreshadows a future where tech companies scale beyond potential suitors. They can only be acquired on their deathbed, when there is a marketplace for failure and missed opportunity.
Life on the Content Farm is a weekly column about internet media written by the last relevant blogger.