Technology

Yahoo on Your Phone, TV, PC...


Would you Yahoo! (YHOO) here or there? Would you Yahoo everywhere? You will, if the Web portal's chief executive, Terry Semel, has anything to say about it. He's taking the wraps off a package of products aimed at giving users access to Yahoo services just about anyplace -- and certainly when they're away from a PC.

Yahoo Go, as it's called, includes a mobile phone with a preloaded application, as well as software that lets users tap into Yahoo services from a PC-connected TV set. Set to be unveiled on Jan. 6 at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Yahoo Go fits squarely with a central theme at the annual trade show: tech companies' effort to revolutionize how consumers think about and use computers.

On Jan. 4, Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates not only promoted the company's online music-store partnership with MTV (see BW Online, 1/5/05, "For Gates, It's Entertainment") but also showed off a flat-panel touch screen for the kitchen, where family members could watch brief news and weather reports. "Two thousand six is going to be a big year for the digital lifestyle," Gates said during his speech.

STRIVING FOR UBIQUITY. The following day, Sony (SNE) CEO Howard Stringer discussed his company's plans to get consumers to read books digitally on its new e-book reader (see BW Online, 12/29/05, "Curling Up With a Good E-Book"). For its part, Google (GOOG) unveiled plans to make TV shows from CBS (VIA) and other networks available for sale through its Google Video search service.

Not to be left out of the mobile party, Google also announced an agreement whereby key Google tools will be accessible via some Motorola (MOT) handsets.

The idea of tech titans pushing a digital lifestyle is far from novel. But Internet companies such as Yahoo and Google are bringing their own unique twist to the concept. Rather than seeking a new market for software or hardware, they're intent on making their existing Web-based services indispensable and ubiquitous.

"At their core, [Google and Yahoo] are search utility companies. Their job is to plug pipelines of search to and from as many places as possible" and derive revenue from advertising, says Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, which tracks the industry. For Google Mobile and Yahoo's Go project, that entails allowing users to access the search giants' services from almost anywhere. Google's video plans, on the other hand, are designed to make as much video as possible accessible through its search engine, even if that means users must pay for some content, says Sullivan.

GRADUAL ROLLOUT. More users -- more of the time -- are crucial for an effort by both companies to win share in the swiftly growing Internet ad market. Advertisers spent an estimated $12.9 billion online in 2005. That was more than twice the industry's size in 2002, and it's expected to reach $22.3 billion by 2009, according to market research firm eMarketer.

Yahoo Go is designed to work on three kinds of devices: phones, TVs, and PCs. At the outset, it'll be available only on specific Nokia (NOK) phones with the preloaded Yahoo application -- and exclusively over the network run by Cingular Wireless, the biggest U.S. mobile-phone service provider. The phone will let consumers use many features of their existing Yahoo accounts, from reading e-mail, to sending instant messages, to uploading mobile-camera pictures onto Yahoo's photo site. The portal will be launching certain services, such as its calendar function and e-mail access, on Motorola models as well.

The TV component, called Go TV, will be a downloadable application specially designed for use on a set connected to a home PC. It will allow consumers to conduct video searches, access photo service Flickr, and use a Yahoo digital video recorder interface for recording TV programs onto the computer's hard drive. The PC version of Go will offer services similar to those on Yahoo's Web site but will use its own application rather than a Web browser.

A FIGHTING CHANCE. In each case, users will be able to access their existing Yahoo account information and save changes across all three platforms. "Yahoo is in the business of monetizing very engaged users," says Marco Boerries, the Yahoo senior vice-president in charge of the project. Giving them access across new platforms with Go engages them even more, he says. "You get an experience where [you're] always connected" to Yahoo.

It's uncertain whether consumers will feel compelled to log onto into Yahoo by phone, and PC-connected TVs are still scarce in the U.S. -- making for a paltry audience for Go TV's debut in the coming months. But in the battle to dominate the den as well as the office, at least one analyst thinks Yahoo has a fighting chance.

"It's becoming clear that people want to see media on whatever device they happen to have at that point in time," says Marc Strohlein, lead analyst at research firm Outsell. "And of Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo, Yahoo is the most media- and content-focused of the three." Semel is working to make it stay that way.


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