Yahoo Discusses its "Panama" Search Engine Advertising Platform

| About: Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)

Yahoo's stock (NASDAQ:YHOO) has been hit over the last few quarters by the company's failure to roll out its upgraded search engine advertising platform, "Panama". On last night's conference call, CEO Terry Semel finally announced that the new platform is live. The announcement immediately impacted Yahoo's stock, and has implications for Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) as well. Key excerpts, including Q&A with Terry Semel, CFO Sue Decker and COO Dan Rosensweig:

We are moving decisively to improve our performance. First, to improve our search advertising business, I am very pleased to announce that our Panama project, our new search advertising platform, is now as of today live. Starting today, we have begun inviting advertisers in the U.S. to upgrade to the new campaign management application. In fact, we even had our first external customer transition to the platform today as well.

This marks a significant turning point in our efforts to deliver additional value for advertisers, helping them better manage their campaigns to realize increased returns. Additionally, we believe that through this platform, we will be able to unlock the full potential of our large global user base and improve our search monetization capabilities.

To facilitate a smooth upgrade, Yahoo! will transition customers from its current system to the new platform on a market-by-market basis. Invitations to upgrade will be issued in stages to U.S. advertisers over the remainder of the year and early part of next year. Since our goal is to ensure a smooth transition, we will be flexible and accommodate those advertisers that wish to defer the upgrade until after the holiday season.

I also want to reaffirm that the introduction of the marketplace design in the U.S. remains on schedule for the first quarter of next year.

Following the migration and introduction of the marketplace design in the U.S., Yahoo! will roll out the new platform in additional markets throughout the world.

We have received a lot of positive feedback from advertisers and agencies of all sizes that have seen the early demonstrations of the platform in recent months. I want to thank all of the employees involved for all of their hard work. Yes, there is a lot more to do, but it is a huge achievement to get to this point. We are very excited about the potential of the Panama Project, and we believe that Yahoo! will derive meaningful financial benefits from this new platform.

And later in the Q&A:

Youssef Squali - Jefferies & Co.

Thank you very much. Terry, just to clarify something you said, when you announced the launch of Panama, you said it is now live. You are still talking about the front-end, meaning that the marketplace design or the new ranking algorithm is still slated in Q1. Do you have a date for that for us?...

Terry S. Semel

I will start with the first one, and that is the Panama question. I said it precisely the way it was said in the past. We have achieved exactly what we set out to achieve and that is, you are absolutely right, with the front-end going as of today and basically, marketplace design in the first quarter. That is how it has been said all along and that is how we are going to continue to say it. I feel very, very good about our capabilities and the people behind the steering wheel.

...Imran Khan - JP Morgan

Yes, hi, a couple of questions. I was trying to get a better sense like, you know, as you are going live with Project Panama, can you give us some quantitative color, like what kind of financial improvement we might see from that project? Is it going to be right away, or is it going to take time? Any color would be appreciated.

Susan L. Decker

I am going to take the first question on Panama. Just to review, we have launched the system, the front-end or the advertiser facing component, is now launched in the fourth quarter. Terry reiterated that we would launch the marketplace design feature in the first quarter of next year, and what we have said historically and continue to think is the case is that we would not expect a financial impact for at least a quarter after that. So the U.S. would be launching marketplace design in the first quarter of next year. We would begin to see a financial impact we believe in Q2 and that would build over time as the system and machine learns, and also as we roll out to other international countries later in 2007.

...Gordon Hodge - Thomas Weisel Partners

Good afternoon. Just a question on Panama. The change in the front-end system, does it allow for more flexibility on pricing? I think your minimum click rate is around $0.10, and I think Google’s is $0.05 or thereabouts. I am just wondering if you will have more flexibility, offer more flexibility to the marketplace there...

Daniel L. Rosensweig

On the Panama question, yes. We have been working, as you know, with a cumbersome system where we have not had the ability to do that at all. Panama addresses a number of things on the front-end side, which is getting in faster, being able to list more listings, be able to buy more keywords, more recommendations, and we will have a more dynamic pricing capability, so the answer is yes to that. We think that will have an affect on our overall business as Panama begins to roll out...

For more, see the entire conference call transcript (free). A full list of the most recent conference call transcripts on Seeking Alpha is here.