Yahoo Q4 Revenue Slips, As Mayer Talks Up Flurry Ad Plans

Yahoo 2014 earningsDuring Yahoo's earnings call Tuesday, CEO Marissa Mayer went into some detail about Yahoo's plans to leverage Flurry's developer connections to launch a mobile ad network.

Mayer said mobile app developers who have downloaded Flurry's free analytics will be able to turn on monetization with Yahoo Gemini, its native solution, as well as BrightRoll video ads. More than 600,000 apps have the Flurry SDK, which are installed on 1.6 billion devices. If Yahoo can get even a small percentage of these apps to add in monetization via Flurry, it could deliver strong returns.

The question is, how much do developers need that additional sales channel? And how much demand can Yahoo deliver into app formats relative to huge players like Facebook?

"Flurry is a great distribution channel for us,” Mayer said.

"The first question an app developer asks is analytics, and the second is how to make money, so if we have that ad network easily available in the API, including BrightRoll video ads," Yahoo has its foot in the door with these developers, she explained.

Yahoo's display ad revenues continued to fall in the fourth quarter of 2014, shrinking 4% to $532 million compared to same period in 2013. Total revenues for the quarter, excluding traffic acquisition costs, were $1.2 billion.

Separately, Yahoo said it would spin off its Alibaba Group stock holdings into a newly formed company (read the release),  a move that partially answers the question of how it will handle its windfall from the China ecommerce giant's huge IPO last year. The tactic will protect Yahoo shareholders from the immense taxes they would have paid through an outright sale of the assets.

Yahoo will continue to operate its core business and hold its 35.5% interest in Yahoo Japan, meanwhile.

Mayer focused investors' attention on Yahoo's efforts in mobile, native, social and video, the fast-growing areas in digital advertising of which Mayer wants Yahoo to be a part.

"Our investment businesses – mobile, video, native and social – collectively delivered more than $1.1 billion in GAAP revenue [in full-year 2014], up 95% year over year," she said. "These growth drivers have really focused our investments and energy on the future of digital advertising."

That said, the $1.1 billion in what the company calls its "transformative investments" represents less than a quarter of Yahoo's overall business, which pulled in $4.6 billion for the year, a decline of 1% from 2013. But Mayer said that these areas of the business should grow to $1.5 billion in 2015. That should be enough to make the display business, now declining, begin to grow again.

She encouraged investors to think of the strength of that business in isolation.

"The MaVeNS [mobile, video, native social] did not contribute meaningfully to Yahoo before 2012, and [from that] we created a billion in revenue. [MaVeNS] would be one of the fastest-growing startups in the world," Mayer said.

With the acquisition of BrightRoll completed in Q4, Mayer helped Yahoo catch up in the slowest-growing area in that quartet. BrightRoll's 2014 revenues were $100 million. "We looked for the right acquisition to jump-start video, and we're confident we found it," Mayer said.

Mobile GAAP revenue grew to $254 million in Q4 -- a 23% sequential growth rate. Native ads contributed $100 million in revenue, a 20% increase. Mayer said some of that increase came from new ad formats and better targeting, which boosted the price per click.

Yahoo was open about its struggles in display. CFO Ken Goldman said the move from premium channels to programmatic "cannibalized revenue" for Yahoo. More lower-priced inventory, including programmatic ads, contributed to the overall drop of 4% in its display ad business.

Ads sold increased 17%, while the price per ad decreased 20%. Mayer said that the decline in display "would be worse if not for the investment we made in programmatic advertising in Yahoo Ad Manager Plus."

Yahoo plans to further consolidate its advertising technology, Mayer stated. She cited the shutdown of Right Media Exchange, which had a separate brand and product from the rest of the portfolio, as an example of that shift. Yahoo wants to make it easier to buy ads by making one integrated offering out of its ad networks and its BrightRoll Flurry acquisitions. The plan to make BrightRoll video ads and Gemini native ads available within Flurry-enabled apps suggests one way the company is executing on that idea.

Yahoo plans to focus on better targeting in 2015, though Mayer brought this up only in response to an analyst question. "We've been adding more information sources," Mayer said. That includes looking at sports teams or stocks a user may follow, and, "with permission, some of the information coming in from Yahoo Mail as well as targeting off of other sites."

Asked about further strategic acquisitions, Mayer said communications was one area where Yahoo might build products or acquire a company. She cited the company's small Q4 acquisitions of communications apps MessageMe and Cooliris, whose teams will focus on building out Yahoo's communications offering.

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