Benner on Tech: Yahoo Stumbles on Television

Katie Benner is a Bloomberg View columnist who writes about technology, innovation, and the cult and culture of Silicon Valley. She lives in San Francisco.
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People are Talking About…

Yahoo made a big push into original programming last year and commissioned two half-hour comedies -- the sci-fi romp "Other Space," created by Paul Feig, and the sports-focused "Sin City Saints," created by Bryan Gordon and Mike Tollin.

Those three men directed or produced "Bridesmaids," "Freaks and Geeks," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Party Down" and "One Tree Hill," so the shows, initially, got some attention.

But about a month after the announcement, I couldn’t remember where they’d air. Amazon or Netflix? A few weeks later I forgot about them altogether.

According to the Wall Street Journal, I’m not the only one that failed to connect original programming with the Yahoo brand. A data analytics company used social media and other clues to figure out that “Community” was hot in March, but generated only about half the buzz of the new Netflix sitcom “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” “Sin City Saints” had about as much buzz as Hulu’s “Hotwives of Orlando.” “Other Space” barely registered.

Yahoo wasn’t previously associated with professional video content -- an advantage that Netflix, Apple and even Amazon all had for different reasons -- so it makes sense that it would be harder for Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer to make audiences think “Yahoo” when they thought “quality original television shows.” Unsurprisingly the company is reportedly backing away from original programming until it figures out whether its current shows can find an audience.

Yahoo is, however, associated with subject matter portals like finance and sports. Little wonder then that its standalone magazines, which are like little subject matter portals, have done relatively well. (Yahoo Style had over 17 million unique visitors in February, according to comScore.) The Journal says the videos that run on those magazine sites will be heavily touted to advertisers at this year’s NewFront.

The takeaway is probably less about Yahoo’s shortcomings and more about the fact that, for anyone, making a hit TV show is really hard. So hard that most would be grateful to have had half the buzz of, say, “Hotwives of Orlando.” I’m not sure that Yahoo will be the only tech company to stumble on original programming.

Broadcast Networks Don’t Want Streaming Competitors to Succeed

BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield breaks down why multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) like Sling and Vue took so long to hit the market.

Unfortunately, both Sling and Vue have technological limitations imposed on them by programmers that are unnecessary other than to protect their legacy advertising business model.  One almost wonders whether these limitations have been created to prevent virtual MVPDs from succeeding beyond a niche audience? 

Ventureland

Airbnb overcame lots of hurdles to open in Cuba, a place with limited Internet and virtually no credit cards. (Fast Company) **This might have been the worst Airbnb in New York City.

Snapchat stopped selling Brand Stories, the company’s native ad-like product that it released last fall. (Re/code) CEO Even Spiegel said more than 40 million users watched the Coachella “Our Story.” (LA Times)

SpaceX is trying again to land its Falcon 9 rocket on an ocean platform. (Bloomberg)

Xiaomi says counterfeiters are hurting its business. (Bloomberg)

Zenefits was banned in Utah for giving away free software, and now Governor Gary Herbert has ended the state’s ban on the company. (Fortune)

Hardware startups are getting easier thanks to the proliferation of consultants, supply chain experts and accelerators. (CNET)

This dating app, dubbed the Uber for dating, will make you wonder why people bother dating at all. (TechCrunch)

Vertical marketplaces like Airbnb and Uber will disrupt horizontal marketplaces like Craigslist and EBay, argues Bessemer’s Jeremy Levine.

People and Personnel Moves

Kurt DelBene joined Microsoft as executive vice president of corporate strategy and planning. DelBene, who will report to CEO Satya Nadella, previously worked at the company as president of Microsoft Office until he left the company in 2013.

Lorrie Norrington has joined Eventbrite’s board as an independent adviser, replacing Alan Braverman. (Re/code)

Bruce Fenton is the Bitcoin Foundation's new executive director. (CoinDesk)

Lauren Zalaznick, the former NBCUniversal executive who worked on Project Runway, has joined the ranks of in-the-know, media industry curators with her LZ Sunday Paper. (Fast Company)

Companies

Amazon reached a multi-year publishing deal with HarperCollins that lets the publisher set prices for e-books. (Bloomberg)

Apple rescinded a policy that didn’t allow workers with felony convictions work on the construction of its new headquarters. (Fortune) Reporters got a sneak peek at the company’s new music app. (9to5Mac)

** Related: Brazil has little to show for Foxconn’s planned $12 billion investment, an agreement to make iPhones in the country and a promise of 100,000 jobs.

Google entered the race to come up with a better battery. (the Wall Street Journal) The threat of Google Fiber in Charlotte, North Carolina, has prompted Time Warner Cable to provide faster Internet speeds at no extra charge. (Ars Technica)

IBM is working with Apple, Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic to create a way for health-care companies to analyze patient data. It’s also set to kick off a business offering around its Watson Health Cloud cloud-computing platform. (Bloomberg)

Nokia could acquire Alcatel-Lucent as part of a strategy to compete with Ericsson. (Bloomberg)

Sprint’s new Direct 2 You program will let subscribers in Kansas City upgrade to new phones with the help of a trained technician who comes to their homes. (Bloomberg)

Security Watch

Companies that need security strategy guidance are turning to insurance companies for help. (the Wall Street Journal)

Cybercriminals innovate faster than the companies that are under attack. (Financial Times)

The Drug Enforcement Agency offers a window into the future of U.S. domestic surveillance. (Wired)

Media Files

Letv, the Netflix of China, is about to enter the U.S. with original programming to stream, along with settop boxes, smart TVs and smartphones for consumers to buy. (Wired)

News and Notes

H-1B visa applications for fiscal 2016 hit a record of 233,000. The annual limit is 85,000, and the U.S. uses a lottery process to distribute visas. (Reuters)

Just as the new net neutrality rules became effective, a trade group called US Telecom, which represents AT&T and Verizon, filed the first lawsuit to stop them. (LA Times)

Spanish activists opposed proposed laws that would criminalize some types of protests by showing hundreds of holograms protesting in front of parliament. (Fusion)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the editor on this story:
Maria Lamagna at mlamagna@bloomberg.net