HALF MOON BAY, California (Reuters) - Yahoo Inc YHOO.O has been slow to react to sweeping changes in Web consumer behavior and online advertising shifts, but it is picking up its pace, its top executives said on Tuesday.
Chief Executive Jerry Yang told advertising executives at a company-sponsored conference in this coastal town that Yahoo can differentiate itself by acting as an “open” alternative to rivals such as Google Inc (GOOG.O) and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O).
Yang, who formed Yahoo in 1994 with co-founder David Filo, said the company was looking to make its big properties into “starting points” that consumers return to again and again each day, rather than trying to keep them on Yahoo, as it long has done.
“Openness is upon us,” Yang said in his first public speaking appearance since taking over as CEO four months ago. “There is an opportunity for Yahoo as a huge publisher to play the open game and do that as a strategy.”
His comments come at the end of a 100-day strategy review of Yahoo’s businesses, in which Yang has vowed there were “no sacred cows.” Wall Street has pressed for radical action, including substantial layoffs and the possible sale of the company, but a modest rebound in third quarter results has bought Yang some time.
Speaking in South Korea, Yahoo President Susan Decker told a news conference that Yahoo failed to respond quickly to rapid changes in the market for display ads, the online banners and other ads wanted by corporate brand marketers.
“We didn’t move fast enough,” she said in Seoul, adding that the leadership that helped propel Yahoo into the lead during the first decade of online advertising was not well positioned for newer market shifts.
Part of the shift in strategy is for Yahoo to move away from being a media company that seeks to attract and keep audiences on its own site and to become more of a technology platform that helps users get things done, on its site or off.
“Yahoo could be a strong publisher,” Yang said. “We may end up continuing to be a strong publisher. But the way we were headed was not creating a publishing platform. We were a bunch of great Web sites and that was it.”
The company, which attracts nearly 500 million monthly visitors to its network of sites, is now focused on encouraging consumers to return repeatedly to its home page and its Yahoo Mail, Web search and mobile Internet services, he said.
Over its 13-year-history, the Internet media pioneer came to focus on luring blue-chip corporate advertisers to its network of Yahoo media properties.
But Yahoo has struggled in recent years to retain active Internet users who have shifted in droves away from the company’s centralized portal of Internet media properties to new and constantly evolving social networking sites.
Yahoo has three broad strategies to differentiate itself from entrenched rivals such as Google and Microsoft and Time Warner Inc’s (TWX.N) AOL, on the one hand, and newer entrants such as social network sites MySpace and Facebook.
Besides “openness” -- helping Yahoo users connect to the Web of non-Yahoo Internet services that they use every day -- the company is also looking to help give advertisers greater insight into consumer behavior to target ads more effectively.
Partnerships are the third leg of its strategy, building on recent deals with online auction eBay Inc (EBAY.O), newspaper publishers and cable broadband company Comcast and Telefonica in the mobile Internet market internationally, Yang said.
Yang said Yahoo is chasing the same prize as its competitors -- a vast and growing online advertising market that is stretching into new realms such as video and mobile.
“I think we are all roughly headed ... in the same direction,” Yang said of Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and AOL. “At least for the advertising piece of the business ... the road map is roughly the same,” he said.
Additional reporting by Marie-France Han in Seoul