Does Yahoo's Turnaround Plan Make Sense?

| About: Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)

To answer the question posed in the headline: Yes.

Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) has been run as a media company for this entire century. It's not a media company. It's a technology company that delivers media as an output. That means it should be run not by writers and editors, and certainly not by ad salesmen, but by engineers.

The plan Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is laying out to employees today will be based on an internal memo obtained by AllThingsD on Friday.

The most important piece is probably the Content Optimization and Relevance Engine, or CORE, a new product that hopes to do something Google News can't: tell me the news people are talking about, up to the minute, at all times. It will combine elements of Google's "social" search strategy with existing Yahoo products in news, sports, and finance.

The second important piece will be a new Yahoo homepage (the present one is a mess), which will become dynamic rather than static, personal rather than general, and whose content will be based on CORE. Again, it's key to the success of this strategy that Yahoo retain its existing news content, things like Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports. That gives it a chance to benefit in terms of page views directly from these changes.

Third will be visual technology, a new emphasis on the company's IntoNow technology -- for finding videos -- and Flickr video tools. It's all about how information is presented, uniquely for each user, attractively enough so they will come to depend on it.

Then the company will try to sell ads against all this, and beef up its own advertising technology in order to drive consumers further down the sales funnel with each ad.

What will give Mayer time to make all this happen is that $3.5 billion of the $4.3 billion (after taxes) Yahoo got for selling half of its Alibaba stake is going back to shareholders. That means "only" $650 million is being spent on this transformation -- small when you consider the company's market cap, but huge when you consider the estimated value of Yahoo's core business. Although, if she needs more, she can do the same trick of selling out the company's Yahoo Japan stake and returning some of that to shareholders.

Keeping the share price afloat is a key to Mayer's strategy, because it depends on patience with engineering time frames more than sudden, splashy moves. The company has only now made its way back to the level it had at Mayer's July 16 hiring. It was trading at $15.60 then and is now at $15.90. The company has yet to report a full quarter under Mayer's leadership, and it's likely the Christmas quarter that will provide its first judgment on her success in making the turnaround happen.

Disclosure: I am long YHOO. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

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