Falling for Yahoo Again, Knowing Heartbreak Ahead

I don’t know what it is about Yahoo, but every year at CES, one of us here at ZNF seems to get sucked in by the promise of Yahoo’s TV platform. In 2011, everybody and their mother is touting a smart TV or a web-connected TV box. Yahoo has been having this conversation for years, and despite little buzz, it seems to keep chugging along. New this year is a technology called “broadcast interactivity,” which shows up as a smart bar at the bottom of your screen and pastes content on top of broadcast and on-demand shows based on audio signatures it “hears” in the programming you watch. The smart bar includes content like TV trivia, polls, and links to buy stuff you see on the screen with your TV remote. (Jennifer Aniston’s sweater, anyone?) You can get the widget on any Yahoo-supported TV, or by connecting an upcoming retail D-Link box to your non-web-based TV screen. Yahoo is working directly with broadcasters to generate the content, with partners right now including ABC, CBS, Showtime, and the Home Shopping Network.

Now wait, I can hear you scoffing at this obvious move by networks to shove more marketing in front of us. But before you do, consider a few things. First, kids will go mad for this. A chance to interact with content around Barbie, iCarly, or whatever the latest craze is? I know my five-year-old would eat it up. Second, think about MTV pop-up videos or American Idol polls that let you text in your votes. People love’em. Third, do not underestimate the power of home shopping. The masses throng to it.

Most interesting to me is the fact that Yahoo is working on a solution that will appeal to consumers, with content closely tied to the programming people want to watch, and to content providers, who have major financial incentive to get something like this working. Yahoo is also working deals with advertisers (Ford, Microsoft, Mattel) to generate enhanced/interactive commercials. Looks like an interesting route around EBIF to me.

Of course there are huge barriers for Yahoo. Connected TV platforms are springing up as fast as mobile app stores, and there are a lot of big players in the ring. Also, that retail D-Link box I mentioned? The price point is supposed to be “under $200,” which sounds awfully steep to me given the alternatives. Yahoo says it’s currently on TV sets from seven of the top ten TV brands. I’d be curious to know what shipment and usage numbers are like.

I’m pulling for Yahoo. I’ve liked everybody I’ve ever talked to at the company about Yahoo TV. They just seem to “get it” in a way many of the CE manufacturers don’t. I wish I had more faith it would be successful. Yahoo has a very tough road ahead.