Can Yahoo Really Take on YouTube?

Can Yahoo Really Take on YouTube?

Online video is becoming one of the hottest topics in consumer technology this year, with a brand-new Roku product, Apple TV rumors and a big Amazon announcement. And now, the latest online-video rumor, based on reports by tech site re/code, is that Yahoo is building an original video network, to debut this year, where it can replicate the success of some YouTube shows (and perhaps try to steal some of those shows).

Regardless of whether the current report about Yahoo video turns out to be true, the company is falling behind in the hot area of original online video and has to do something to catch up.

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The re/code article cites anonymous sources, including a video producer working with Yahoo, who said Yahoo is working on a curated network of original shows by outside artists. It would essentially be like the greatest hits of YouTube originals rather than an open platform where anyone can post a cat video (though it may open up to the public in the future). Yahoo's strategy, re/code reports, is to lure content producers away from YouTube by guaranteeing better promotion and a bigger cut of advertising revenue than YouTube provides.

Why original content is hot

It turned out that "House of Cards" wasn't the one-hit wonder of original online TV. Netflix quickly followed with blockbuster "Orange Is the New Black" (with its second season starting in June). Amazon cracked up viewers with the John Goodman-led political comedy "Alpha House," which was just renewed for another season. Amazon has also green-lighted four new, innovative shows to go on to full production, as well as a new children's show.

Throw into the mix Hulu's original and exclusive-license shows, as well as the boom in content on sites like Crackle, and Yahoo has some catching up to do.

It's not that Yahoo doesn't have any original content, but its shows haven't become the household names that originals from Netflix and Amazon have, or that YouTube favorites like "The Annoying Orange," "Web Therapy" or guerilla cooking show "Sorted Food" have been.

Yahoo Screen's confusing mess

Yahoo currently focuses on comedy, and has produced a few hilarious shows, such as the Ben Stiller-backed "Burning Love," a spoof on shows like "The Bachelor." It has other clever offerings, including "Ghost Ghirls," a spoof of ghost-hunting TV shows, and "Losing It with John Stamos," an interview program in which celebs recount their first sexual encounter.

Perhaps one reason Yahoo's comedies are underappreciated is that they are almost impossible to find. Yahoo's video portal (not as catchy as "YouTube") is an ADD-inducing splattering of video clips arranged loosely into categories that scroll on endlessly. Some categories are genres, such as comedy or sports; some are TV shows, such as "SNL"; and many are other video networks, such as Vevo. Then, there are concepts such as "That's SO Cute" (think cats and puppies) and "Be Inspired" (paralyzed painters, young people with Down syndrome, etc.).

Curiously, there's no home-page category for Yahoo's own original shows (at least on the several pages we had the patience to scroll through). Even when you click on the Comedy category, the first Yahoo original to show up, "The Flip Side," first appears in the 13th row of shows after a lot of scrolling. Unfortunately, the new Yahoo Screen app launched on Roku set-top boxes is equally bewildering — surprising for a platform that has to approve all apps, and generally ensures that they are easy to navigate.

And while comedy is the biggest category of Web video hits, dramas and dramedies — ranging from Netflix's "House of Cards" to Amazon's upcoming "Bosch" and "Transparent" — are pulling in viewers. But Yahoo's focus remains on goofball comedy.

Yahoo may or may not need (or be able) to copy Google's YouTube, but it can do a lot more to diversify its original shows and get out the word about what it already has.

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