Yahoo! Bounds into Broadcasting

With an entertainment industry executive at its helm and an avowed plan to add more broadband services, it’s not been a question of whether Yahoo would get into the on-demand Web programming business, but when, and how well it would handle the opportunity.

At least one of those questions seems to have an answer, with the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Web portal signing deals with Carsey-Werner Distribution and allFOOD.com to syndicate their programming online.

Through the agreement with Carsey-Werner’s CW eDistribution unit, Yahoo Broadcast will run free, full-length TV episodes, on demand. The agreement covers music videos, celebrity interviews, comedy television, movie clips, classic commercials, golf tips, and “extreme cliffhangers”.

Through a separate deal, New York-based allFOOD.com, a unit of MinuteMeals.com, will be Webcasting segments through Yahoo Broadcast. Those segments will include streaming videos of recipes and cooking tips from culinary experts.

Yahoo also inked deals for on-demand viewing of specific events. The Web portal said it would stream a one-hour, edited version of a never-before-seen Sting concert, recorded Sept. 11 in Tuscany, Italy. (The concert was to have been Webcast live.) Through an agreement with organizational training firm FranklinCovey, Yahoo Broadcast also will show highlights from a two-day conference, “Managing Change & Strengthening Families.”

Yahoo is wagering that its new programming will woo broadband users — who already download an average of 12.9 million hours of streaming video each month from its site, it said — and advertisers, who covet the combined brand-building and direct-response opportunities involved in TV-like ads being delivered online. Because Yahoo isn’t charging for the Broadcast service, the agreements signal a continued faith in advertising revenue, as opposed to subscription-based income, which the portal has also taken strides to enhance.

Such a deal has long been expected following the appointment of Terry Semel, onetime co-chairman and co-chief executive of Warner Bros., to the portal’s top spot. Widely regarded during his studio career as one of the most powerful figures in Hollywood, Semel also is considered one of the studio’s saviors, leading, with co-CEO Robert Daly, Warner Bros.’ efforts to grow from dependance on a single, precarious source of revenue into a full-fledged media giant.

It’s a story which Yahoo and its shareholders would no doubt like to see repeated. Through Monday’s deals, Yahoo is not only aiming to boost viewership and the advertising dollars that hopefully follow, but also to bring in revenue through associated e-commerce. For instance, while allFOOD.com clips play in Yahoo Broadcast’s window, a side panel displays information and links to buy books, food and other products online.

But the Internet portal remains extremely limited in the shows it can broadcast. So far, the only show specified by Yahoo and Carsey-Werner for rebroadcast online is “Townies,” a failed 1996 ABC sitcom starring Molly Ringwald and Jenna Elfman. In addition to “Townies,” Yahoo Broadcast’s TV section features a Bugs Bunny cartoon, the original Mr. Potato Head commercial and news coverage from NBC affiliate KWOC-TV in Davenport, Iowa. Similarly, its Sports section features dated oddities like “Strange NFL Plays.”

While it appears to be coming up short on blockbusters, Yahoo sees considerable potential in the deals. While the agreement didn’t disclose how much the Web portal would figure in future syndication deals, Carsey-Werner controls distribution for such venerable hits as The Cosby Show and for popular new series like “That 70s Show” and “Third Rock from the Sun,” both produced by its parent, Carsey-Werner-Mandabach.

It’s unlikely that Yahoo will see the distributor’s best-known series anytime soon. (For one reason, syndication agreements for major network shows are often sewn up years in advance.) But in the meantime, both Yahoo and Carsey-Werner seem to think of the deal as a way to offer less widely popular offerings to niche audiences.

“Yahoo enables us to engage people on a new level,” said Robert Raleigh, president of domestic television distribution for Carsey-Werner Distribution. “It is the ideal platform for people to see shows that they might not otherwise be able to access. There is a wide variety of programming that, for one reason or another, cannot be found on TV but which is nevertheless very popular with certain audiences. Yahoo makes it possible for us to bring those audiences what they want to see easily and economically.”

Added Yahoo Broadcast general manager Marc Montoya, “As an independent media company, we are providing consumers with the kind of television, movie and music programming that is not available anywhere else on the Web. This reinforces Yahoo as a valuable destination for users, advertisers and marketers.”

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