Yahoo Takes the Plunge

SAN FRANCISCO (03/10/2000) - Two months after America Online Inc. jumped headlong into mainstream media with its planned purchase of Time Warner Inc., Yahoo Inc. responded last week: It's going to stick its toe in the pool with a 24-hour Webcast TV channel. The move, while not nearly as dramatic as AOL's, is still significant because it shows Yahoo is willing to breach its "no original content" strategy.

The subject of the new venture is one that has been good for Yahoo all along: finance. The project, dubbed Yahoo FinanceVision, launches this week. It will let users watch streaming video while surfing the Web. According to individuals close to the project, former executive producer of CNNfn Eric School will head it. The project will produce all its programming in-house at Yahoo's Santa Clara, California, offices. Scholl and other staffers at Yahoo declined to comment on the project.

While the producers will create new programming for the channel, the content will not be entirely original. While programming details were not available before the launch, Yahoo has formed partnerships with a dozen-or-so established financial media organizations that will contribute content and expertise. Those partners include CBS MarketWatch, Forbes, the Red Herring, the San Jose Mercury News, TheStreet.com and The Industry Standard. Other editorial partners are women's financial site Cassandra's Revenge; investment site eHarmon.com; online programming company Exorbis; GreenMagazine; IPO Financial Network Online; Media Metrix; Standard and Poor's; and ReporterTV.com.

For Yahoo, the new channel is a bold move - and an understandable one in light of the pending merger of AOL and Time Warner. In fact, when that pact was announced January, observers immediately opined that Yahoo would have to form an alliance with an old-media giant to keep it in the same league with Microsoft, which partnered with NBC, and AOL. Some see Yahoo's new channel as an attempt to grab some of CNBC's audience. While corporate TVs across America are permanently tuned to CNBC, the cable channel's Web operation, CNBC.com, hasn't hit its stride.

In jumping to TV, Yahoo deviates slightly from its reputation as an aggregator, gathering information from and links to content from other sources. Using finance as its launchpad into original programming makes sense for Yahoo, given the strength and popularity of Yahoo Finance, which Nielsen/NetRatings ranked as the Web's top finance site in January 2000 in terms of unique visitors.

Those statistics list CBS MarketWatch.com at No. 4; CNNfn.com, No. 8; Bloomberg.com, No. 13; and CNBC.com at No. 18.

FinanceVision will feature streaming video in a window on the upper left of a browser screen, with companion information and links on the right. Clicking on the links will open new pages within the browser, which will be underneath the video window. The site will also contain easily accessible stock and portfolio information.

Other financial sites like CBS MarketWatch.com, CNBC.com, CNNfn.com and Bloomberg offer limited streaming video. And On24.com, an independent Internet broadcast network for investors, offers all-day original programming, although it does not attract anything close to the traffic of the better-known sites.

Also launching this week is the daily broadcast of "TechRap," an original offering will appear five times a week on Net broadcaster Pseudo.com's business and technical channel. Pseudo CEO David Bohrman says he isn't concerned about Yahoo:

"Are they competing with us? My sense is that what you're going to get on Yahoo is going to be totally traditional, like a mini-CNNfn or a mini-Bloomberg," Bohrman says.

MSNBC.com editor in chief Merrill Brown is also dismissive. "When anybody with their scale helps build the marketplace for new products, it's a great thing for us," Brown says. "On the other hand, they're not a news company. We are a news company, and ultimately, as people learn about new ways to get their news, like on the Web, they'll turn to trusted sources like us. (Yahoo) will whet the appetite for the real thing which, hopefully, we'll be delivering."

Yahoo has been mum on its plans for expansion into Webcasting, but FinanceVision is evidently just the first step. JP Kids, an Oakland, Calif.-based TV production company, says it is working with Yahoo to develop the Yahooligans Web guide as a franchise for television, film and books.

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